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Monday, May 17, 2004

The Fall of the Black Messiah, The Rise of Personal Leadership

On Saturday the New York Times had an article about black leadership. More specifically, the Old Guard is concerned that no dominant black leader is emerging. Perhaps if the Old Guard didn't stingily control its power, then more obvious choices would emerge. Let's not forget that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was only 25 years old when he led the Montgomery bus boycott back in 1955. Today's Young Turks, like Rep. Harold Ford, get reviled because of their more moderate ways.

The article also asks whether today's generation even needs a leader, one man (and it's always a man) who shepherds us like flock. Like the people over at Booker Rising, I must also respond no. Sure, there will always be people who lead various groups. However, black Americans now come from a variety of backgrounds. In fact, not enough attention is paid to the diversity within black American communities. Contrary to popular assumptions, we are not a monolith. Just last week, a friend of mine had to check a white Australian-born-and-raised teenager who expressed amazement about my views. "She's the first black person who I've met with such conservative (read: libertarianism vs. his socialism) views," he told my friend. My girl had to remind him that yes, we black people do come in different packages.

I believe that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was dropped from the heavens to help lead black folks to the Promised Land. Somebody had to give black people hope, remind people that they had the power to change their lives and deploy a very effective strategy to challenge America to live up to its ideals. King was the right man for the right time! However, different times call for different tactics. We should debunk the very notion of leadership. This is nothing new: both Carter G. Woodson (founder of what's now Black History Month) and Ella Baker both proposed building the leadership of the masses. The elitist days of the "Talented Twentieth" are numbered and it's high time to train folks to be leaders in their own communities, to take charge of their lives. The civil rights generation wanted a seat at the table, the post-civil-rights generation wants to own and command the table.

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