Fading civil rights gains, huge demographic changes, crisis in educating Black children and diminishing political clout are among current challenges that demand effective Black leadership. Of course, such leadership is by no means confined to elected officials or other high profile positions. Leadership is defined here as a position of authority and/or influence with clear expectations and responsibilities (official or unofficial) and accountability to respective constituencies.
The litany of challenges and problems facing Black leadership is long and daunting, and must be dealt with honestly and directly. Challenges include: racism, schools, parental responsibility, mutual respect, gangs, employment, affordable housing, businesses, race relations, immigration, values and ethics, public policy, police malpractice and Black-on-Black violence.
Those who feel law enforcement no longer requires external monitoring and oversight best take heed of the implications of recent remarks by LAPD Deputy Chief Mark Perez. Concerning the Inspector General’s audit report citing flaws and mishandling by the Internal Affairs Unit of citizen complaints against LA police officers, Perez, who heads Internal Affairs, acknowledges deficiencies but contends that the mistakes rarely, if ever, affect the decision of whether to discipline officers. Unbelievable!
Perez’s comments smack of continuing unofficially sanctioned rigid, authoritarian thinking that impedes reform efforts and reinforces broad suspicion that LAPD remains resistant, if not impervious, to fundamental change.
The Barack Obama phenomenon hopefully, represents a preferred leadership model, not because of his exceptional ability to attract and rally vastly diverse racial, ethnic and age groups, but because he does so without apology for his race or accomplishments. That sets him well apart from traditional Black leaders whose primary loyalties, unfortunately, are routinely to political parties and special interests, nor their constituents.
How will Black leadership deal with such seemingly intransient, often deeply embedded issues? Some thoughts on this: Values, ideology, principles and other leadership priorities, no matter the field, profession or class, must be revisited in light of current demands and dysfunctional practices, vis a vis, community interests. A shift in emphasis is needed, from individuals to group concerns. Of course, this goes against traditional wisdom and Americana’s grain. Further, explicit agreement on strategic planning and action priorities by all parties is essential.
Locally, the upcoming 2nd Supervisorial District election for Yvonne Brathwaite Burke’s vacated seat offers a clear choice: State Senator, Mark Ridley Thomas, a progressive, community—needs oriented candidate versus City Councilman, Bernard C. Parks, a conservative, business-oriented ex-police chief seems stuck on “blue” over grass roots concerns—a troublesome propensity since much of the 2nd District is poor and in need of constant caring.
Current Black leadership—at all levels—is sorely in need of re-tooling. Continuing to embrace traditional, but dysfunctional principles and practices only perpetuates a status quo that obviously does not serve Blacks’ interests. But new leadership paradigms, and behavior, require unaccustomed risk-taking, e.g., challenging political and economic mores designed to preserve white privilege.
While few are Harvard graduates, it may serve us all well to listen attentively to what Barack Obama is saying and collectively, keep his feet to the fire to ensure he means it. Obama aside, today’s challenges are more than sufficiently severe to motivate concern folks to be more introspective and proactive on critically important issues. Current Black leadership is in dire need of fixing and needs all factions help to make things right. For a sea change, we would actually be acting in our own best interest.
Larry Aubry n can be contacted at e-mail