One of the most transformational experiences I’ve had as an educator, school leader, and cohort member of CEDA 500 at Clark-Atlanta University under the supreme direction of Dr. Noran Moffett was undoubtedly our production of a leadership symposium consisting of a panel discussion with prominent school leaders around the city of Atlanta. The wealth of knowledge and experience that resided in Trevor Auditorium that evening was absolutely empowering. I cannot describe in words how meaningful this interaction was for me. I think I speak for all of my cohort members that that moment in time was a transition: it was our first step into the shoes of giants as newly indoctrinated 21st century transformational school leaders; a walk from teachers, students, coaches, and every occupation that exists among us into a realm powerful influence. Here are the panelists:
These panalists represented well-over 150 years of experience (Dr. Bolden is 93 years old and still sharp as a tack!) Each member of the cohort was responsible for an organizational task (ELCC 2): securing a venue, entertainment, photography, video recording, greeting guests, etc. My responsibility included coming up with the questions to render to the panelists and serve as moderator for the panel discussion. Although I think it was well-orchestrated in the end (thanks to Mr. Marcus Bolton, Stephanie Hunte, and Christopher White), everything did not go as well as expected. We pulled it through, though! If you’re an educator, you know how there are times when you create that perfect lesson plan, the best one ever? Remember how it feels knowing that you created the greatest lesson known to man in for a flawless delivery to a bunch of thirsty, adolescent minds (hint of sarcasm)? Remember how things never seem to go as planned? You always seem to over look the small things, right? You may have technology malfunctions; or, you may realize those thirsty minds weren’t so thirsty after all. Well that’s pretty much how it went. In the end, though, the production was quite pleasing. Each cohort member contributed to his/her given responsibility and the outcome was quite gratifying.
“The Negro Race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education then, among Negroes, must first of all deal with the “Talented Tenth.” It is the problem of developing the best of this race that they may guide the mass away from the contamination and death of the worst.” –W.E.B. Dubois
“No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.” –Booker T. Washington
The two great leaders of the 19th and 20th centuries, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois, sharply disagreed on the strategies for social and economic advancement regarding the Black community. Both philosophies are critical points of discussion here in the 21st century in regards to racial and class injustice, but especially the role of Black leadership. While Washington preached a philosophy of self-help, “Pick yourself up by your own bootstraps”, and racial solidarity, DuBois, argued for political action and an aggressive civil rights agenda. I believe the role of the 21st Century Leader is to take both those philosophies and merge them.
In regards to the African American community, we have loose footing in the economic sphere because we failed to cultivate an education in skills, craft, patience, and enterprise. Therefore, according to Washingtonian philosophy, in order to prepare our students for their future, we, as 21st century leaders, need to ensure they are readied with “21st century skills” necessary to compete in a highly technologically advanced society, to compete with their school-age peers across the world, and to build economic wealth for their families and their community at large. To do this, we must be champions at seeking and collaborating with diverse educators who share the same vision, and who are also change agents. . We must ensure that the instructional program is not shortchanged in its pursuit of skills and that we implement programs that incite richer modes of thinking, complex tasks, and decision-making. Washington was right in this aspect; we need influential and forceful practitioners. But in order for us to cultivate that, we must be that ourselves.
Carter G. Woodson holds our feet to the fire and challenges us to make ourselves politically knowledgeable so that the wool doesn’t keep getting pulled over our eyes which consequentially, makes us all the more forceful. This is Dubois’ argument. Understanding “the larger political, social, economic, legal, and cultural context (ELCC Standard 6)” should be a vision that each 21st century educational leader should have for his/her STUDENTS. How can we empower our students to be future leaders of their own communities if we don’t inspire them to be socially and politically conscious? How can they keep the wool from being pulled over their eyes if they don’t understand this concept? Whose job is it to ensure this? Dubois argued that it will take a small group of the “Talented Tenth” percent of the college-educated Black community to lift up the masses. Well, I see this as a call for a “Talented” 21st century educational leader who sees the benefit of his/her students being highly skilled contributors to society, but also a visionary who can inspire his students who see the value in an education. Like Dubois, the 21st century leader is a believer that education is not a simple matter of school alone, but it is human education, a system that involves the family and the community. Therefore, the educational leader is not necessarily a school leader; he is a group leader.
The mantra of the old African proverb, “It takes a village…” is the essence of individual and collective growth and development in African societies. New members of the tribe, particularly newborns but certainly not limited to infants, (One significant difference between African and European slavery is that in African society, captured Africans were allowed to gain acceptance and become a positive and productive members of his/her new tribe after a somewhat “indentured servitude”. On the other hand, however, in European slavery there was absolutely no social mobility and the slave’s tenure ship remained as such for life; his children, his children’s children, and all generations thereafter would live and die as peons of society.) were assimilated into the ways of the clan through word of mouth from every member of society. It was the moral and tribal obligation of every positive, productive, and life-giving member of the community to indoctrinate new members into the customs, traditions, and history of the tribe by word of mouth, modeling acceptable behaviors, and shunning and/or banning those who exhibited the contrary. Everyone—elders, womenfolk, kinsmen, artisans—were active participants in ensuring the socio-cultural development of the younger generation, and new adult members. Each member played an essential role as teacher, mentor, MESSENGER.
At the core of African and African-American survival through American slavery, Reconstruction, and the tumultuous times of the mid-century, the forties through seventies (I chose not to use the term “Civil Rights Era” out of respect and recognition of those who fought the struggle and didn’t consider themselves part of the Civil Rights Movement, i.e. Malcolm, Stokely Carmichael after SNCC) was, of course, greatly due to our responsibility to teach and lead the younger generations. Remember the Children’s March during the “Bombing-Ham” riots? As a people, we’ve always had this cultural distinctiveness to TEACH, LEAD, and MODEL. We’ve gone through great lengths and strides to make sure the NEXT generation doesn’t become a victimized generation, whether politically, socially, academically or culturally. My question to you is, dear reader, where do YOU stand? What is your message? Who are YOUR messengers? I always felt that as so-called college-educated African-American, Black, Negro, or just plain ‘ol American,—whatever folk call themselves these days—you fall on either side of the fence: if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Message to the messenger is not a message to the younger generation. It’s not a message to the rappers. It’s a message to YOU! As Black leaders, so-called “educated” leaders, what hours of the day are YOU delivering the MESSAGE of political consciousness, cultural and ethnic pride, and pursuance of purposeful endeavors? We all should be dedicating just a few those “off the clock” hours a week to educate, congratulate, and cultivate (my Jesse Jackson again) those teachings, values, and characteristics that are essential to positive and productive living. Gil Scott said, “When they think you insane, start calling you scarecrow; telling folks you ain’t got no brain…”, those are our kids! They’re the scarecrows. Our kids, and their kids, too: white, Black, Asian, and Hispanic. As quintessential Africans, you have an ethnic obligation to teach and lead your people from the bowels of cultural denigration, misrepresentation, and mis-education (there’s another Jesse moment); but, as professional educator, you have the burdensome but meaningful task of being a messenger for all students, not just ours. Teach them our story. Teach ours, their story. The message we send will be the one they send to their families, their communities, their followers.
Jean-Michel Basquiat, an American artist of the 1980s, is credited with bringing the African-American and Latino experience to the elite art world. One of his most prized pieces, “Most Kings” depicts the interrelationship of tragedy and success: “Most
Young Kings Get Their Heads Cut Off”. His painting, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, was inspired by Basquiat’s hero, Charlie Parker, whose own life was a tragic play in itself. The irony in this piece, however, is that the artist himself personified the meaning of his own artwork, tragically losing his life at the tender age of 27 due to a drug overdose.
In recent years, famed hip-hop megastar Jay-Z released a song inspired by Basquiat’s painting and circumstances within in his own life as he progressed from Brooklyn street thug to multi-millionaire. Jay-Z wrote:
“Same sword they knight you they gonna good night you with
Shit that’s only half if they like you
That ain’t he even the half what they might do
Don’t believe me ask Michael
See Martin, see Malcolm
See Biggie, see Pac, see success and its outcome
See Jesus, see Judas
See Caesar, see Brutus
See success is like suicide
Suicide, it’s a suicide
When you succeed prepare to be crucified”—Jay-Z, Most Kingz
As I watched the full-length movie of Julius Caesar, I immediately thought about Jay-Z’s song and Basquiat’s painting, both of the same title, and both mirroring the message of Shakespeare’s play. In this incredibly complex piece of art, several lessons can be learned for the 21st century educational leader. The overarching themes are: humility versus ambition; betrayal versus loyalty; covetousness and power.
Mob mentality, which is at the essence of the fall of Caesar and the chaos that ensued after his death, is another phenomenon any leader ought to be aware of. Shakespeare reasoned that people behaved differently in mobs. In other words, one individual can sway the opinions of everyone present by simply convincing just one person from the group. We saw this as Cassius was able to sway a reluctant Brutus to betray Caesar; we saw this as Brutus was able to sway an angry mob by speaking to the masses and explaining why Caesar had to be slain for the good of Rome after Caesar’s assassination. We also see a more charismatic Marc Antony cleverly manage to sway the crowd once more by telling them of Caesar’s good works and genuine concern for the people. The lesson here is that the people—your constituents, your followers—can be the best stewards of your vision, or your biggest rivals. ELCC 1.3 reads: “Formulate initiatives to motivate staff, students, and families. Take care of your people!
An effective school leader’s ambition, decisions, and competence will always come into question by followers, naysayers, and those who also seek position and power blinded by their own envious judgments and ironically, their own ambition.
Everybody want to be the king till shots ring
You laying on the balcony with holes in your dream
Or you Malcolm Xed out getting distracted by screams
Everybody get your hands off my jeans
Everybody look at you strange, say you changed
Like you work that hard to stay the same
Game stayed the same, the name changed
So it’s best for those to not overdose on being famous –Jay-Z, Most Kingz
After defeating Rome’s rival, Pompey, Caesar tried to rule as a dictator, not as a leader. He began “overdosing on being famous” which is a cardinal rule Jay-Z warned against. Therefore, as he crossed from leader to absolute controller, he crossed a line his followers weren’t willing to cross with him. He even alienated his closest allies, contributing to his own demise. Effective leadership implies direction. People want to be led, not controlled. Leadership is transformational. It charges and fascinates people; it guides and motivates them. Control is crushing, oppressive, and breeds resentment and jealousy; so I believe it is necessary for a leader to be conscious of how his leadership style is being perceived by those who fall under his arms of influence (ELCC 1.3, 1.4, 1.5).
“So dangerous, so no strangers invited to the inner sanctum of your chambers
Load chambers, the enemy’s approaching so raise
Your drawbridge and drown him in the moat then
The spirit I’m evoking is of kings who’ve been awoken
By shots from those who was most close to them
They won’t stop till you a ghost to em
But real kings don’t die, they become martyrs, let’s toast to em
King Arthur put a robe to em like James Brown
Know the show ain’t over till Rome’s ruined
Till the republic is overthrowed, till my loyal subjects is over Hov
Long live the king. Know the reign won’t stop
They want my head on the chopping block
I won’t die, nah”—Jay-Z, Most Kingz
There are several talented and well respected educators within any school, but there are only so many effective and transformational school leaders. Leadership requires making those tough decisions. It requires being willing to stand alone. Leadership requires courage and the willingness to accept responsibility for failures and being humble enough to give your followers the credit for the successes. This is where Caesar went wrong. As symbolized in the message behind Julius Caesar, “Most Kingz”by Jay-Z and “Most Young Kings” by Jean-Michel Basquiat, a leader should always be aware of the dynamics that cause dissent, be it within an organization, or personal: jealousy, cabals, temperaments and personalities. The power of effective leadership is summed up here:
The spirit I’m evoking is of kings who’ve been awoken
By shots from those who was most close to them
They won’t stop till you a ghost to em
But real kings don’t die, they become martyrs, let’s toast to em
The impact of effective and influential leadership never dies. It procreates among followers and lives on. Like Caesar is to Rome, or Joe Clark is to American education, we remember the impact of leadership long after they’re gone.
For nearly a century, from the day African Americans were freed from slavery, up until the highly televised dialogue between Malcolm X and Herman Blake, Negroes in America remained in the social, political, economic, educational, and cultural subjugation by the white power structure. However, the 1950s was a decade of progressiveness for African Americans; well, at least on paper. It was a decade of renewed hope, renewed spirit and vitality. The Civil Rights Movement began to peak, bringing with it heightened voices of equal opportunity and social consciousness breathing breath of life back into the weary lungs of Negroes who toiled, marched, sang, danced, praised, and even died for the rights and opportunities “other” Americans were born with. The passage of certain pieces of legislation, Brown v. Board of Education in particular, brought more light at the end of the tunnel. Still, as one hand giveth, the other taketh away, or as Malcolm put it, “Victory, but no victory.” Even after the passage of this landmark decision, white mobs blocked the enrollment of Blacks all across the country, particularly in the South. Blacks boycotted schools in places like Georgia, Massachusetts; riots raged on in nearly every major city in the South; the Little Rock Nine was escorted through the doors of Central High School with armed troops of the U.S. Army; the governor of Alabama, Gerald Wallace, attempted to block the doors to prevent Blacks from registering at the University of Alabama. And here we are, 1963: turmoil, bigotry, hypocrisy, oppression.
The ELCC standards are embedded within Malcolm’s leadership style, philosophy, and life (As he would say, “You judge a man by his actions, his deeds.”) which makes it relevant to the role of educational leadership today. When analyzing Malcolm’s life and leadership qualities it is important to observe his foundational principles of morality—integrity, honesty, courage (ELCC 5). It is interesting to note that in the beginning of his role as minister, the FBI found it extremely difficult to assassinate his character because of his strict moral code. Marable (2011), points out: “Though the Bureau saw Malcolm as a potential threat to national security, his rigid behavioral code and strong leadership skills would make him a hard to discredit. He did not have obvious vulnerabilities, nor was likely to be baited into making a mistake (p. 140).” Marable (2011) also writes of an NOI informant who stated:
“…He is an excellent speaker, forceful and convincing. He is an expert organizer and an untiring worker…he is fearless and cannot be intimidated by words or threats of personal harm. He has most of the answers at his fingertips and should be carefully dealt with. He is not likely to violate any ordinances or laws. He neither smokes nor drinks and is of high moral character (p. 139).”
An effective educational leader also understands the larger political, social, legal, and cultural context (ELCC 6). In the video clip and in preserved audiotaped sermons, Malcolm demonstrates an array of knowledge on several social and political issues. Malcolm was an avid reader and would undertake tedious mental work reading mainly current events and history, studying, and writing in his personal journal in order to empower and challenge the African American masses. He firmly believed that no leader could lead without knowledge and understanding of the economic and political worlds their followers existed in. As an educational leader, we too must be well versed on current trends and issues so that we may empower our colleagues, staff, and the students we serve.
Through these, Malcolm was able to rise through the ranks of leadership within the NOI. His unmatched ability to manage time, resources, and data is explicitly found within his dialogue with Herman Blake and his tenure as senior minister within the NOI (ELCC standard 3). Educational leaders must also be capable of effectively managing resources, time, and data in order to ensure a highly functional and productive learning environment. Although Malcolm’s vision for social upliftment eventually outstretched the NOI’s scope (and consequentially led to his untimely demise), school leaders must also be driven by a personal and professional vision and mission (ELCC 1) that may, in some cases, alienate colleagues, staff, and parents, similarly as what eventually happened to Malcolm. However, an effective school leader, also like Malcolm, maintains his courage and integrity regardless of the personal and professional challenges they present because in the end, the impact and legacy left behind may not be instantly be realized as initially expected, but maybe understood and appreciated until sometime thereafter.
The presidential election of 2008 brought the largest Black voter turnout in American history with then Senator Barack Obama, an African-American, as front runner and eventually winner of the historic bid. Both occurrences awakened a vibrant vitality within the country, but especially among its downtrodden African-American citizenry. To us, this was finally victory. We protested, walked the picket lines, hustled and toiled for our right as American citizens to not only vote but to ensure we would not continue to be politically disenfranchised by illegal voting practices such as the literacy tests. Tupac Shakur, considered to somewhat of a politically-conscious thug-poet even stated, “We ain’t ready to see a Black president” in his classic posthumous opus “Changes.” Fast forward two short years later, in the midst of hostile political gridlock brought about by our new president’s initiatives such as universal healthcare, liberal economic policies, and a peaceful mediator approach to international conflicts, the nation was up for mid-term elections. Hostilities were presented, both racial and political; but yet, lower voter turnout, particularly among us—the Black electorate—contributed to a huge loss suffered by the Democratic Party. Although several reasons can be attributed to the low Black turnout for the elections, much is due to the assumption that several in this electorate were unaware of the implications this election would have on the president’s further initiatives and even the 2012 presidential bid. The lack of political education has plagued the African-American community since the birth of formal public schooling for Negroes was instituted during the Reconstruction period.
From the outset, public education for the African-American populace was segregated under the assumption that such an arrangement would reduce conflict. In the beginning, the opportunity to receive a free public education without white interference in the form of taunts with racial slurs and possible violent outbursts was generally accepted by Blacks, for the most part. However, these schools were still at the mercy of the white bureaucracy for funding and the established curriculum. The establishment feared a challenge to white supremacy so they financially deprived our schools, sabotaged our curriculum for the procreation of generational historical and political ignorance. Our books, our infrastructure, our highly qualified but less paid teachers were all deliberate attempts to reinforce the stigma of racial inferiority and status as second-class citizens that we would have to endure not only for our individual lives, but for the lives of our children as well.
For years, the U.S. Constitution was excluded from our books (along with an accurate account of our history) citing the fear that we would read it, learn from it, and begin to demand our rights. So therefore, “If the Negroes were granted the opportunity to peruse this document, they might learn to contend for the rights therein guaranteed; and no Negro teacher who gives attention to such matters of the government is tolerated in those backward districts. The teaching of government or the lack of such instruction, then, must be made to conform to the policy of “keeping the Negro in his place.” Because of our lack of political knowledge, due to actions taken by Whites, we have been bamboozled with great strides on paper, but maintenance of the status quo in reality as in Brown. v. BOE Topeka, 1954. As one hand giveth, the other hand taketh. This has been the story of the African American experience in terms of our pursuit of socio-political equability.
Woodson’s Political Education Neglected is a call for the Negro to recognize its crippled political condition. He writes,
“the Negroes under such terrorism have ceased to think of political matters as their sphere. Where such things come into teaching in more advanced work they are presented as matters of concern to a particular element rather than as functions in which all citizens may participate. The result is that Negroes grow up without knowledge of political matters which should concern all elements. To prevent the Negroes from learning too much about these things the whites in the schools are sometimes neglected also, but the latter have the opportunity to learn by contact, close observation, and actual participation in the affairs of government.”
He further adds,
“Negroes in certain parts, then, have all but abandoned voting even at points where it might be allowed. In some cases not as many as two thousand Negroes vote in a whole state.”
That’s reminiscent of the low voter turnout in the national midterm elections. These practices have become permeated throughout American society and we’ve lost several battles and countless soldiers because of its indoctrination into the fabric of society. But like history has shown us how the lack of political knowledge has held us “in place” there are also instances of how its mastery can be used for inspiration, motivation, and education. Recall how powerful Huey P. Newton was. Let us remind ourselves of the Shirley Chisholms, the Thurgood Marshalls, the Rufus Clementes, the Adam Clayton Powells, and the reasons why we just elected our nation’s first African American president. A sound grounding in the “larger political, social, economic, legal, and cultural context” is essential for us as African-American, 21st century educational leaders. The system was designed for us to stay in our place. Of course this is not the Reconstruction era, the Civil Rights Movement, or not even the 90’s anymore. But the transformation of the minds of our masses which include our students, their families, our colleagues, and our communities is our revolution and the schools are our conduits.
Fred Hampton Interview
Fred Hampton’s leadership style and philosophy mirrored that of the BPP, and he’s quite similar in a lot of respects to Huey P., Bobby Seale, and Bro. Eldridge Cleaver. The most impressive thing about them all and the entire BPP movement is that they were the sheer personification of ELCC 6: understanding the larger context of the political, legal, economic, and cultural spectrums. The white establishment and Black folk alike had never before witnessed a group of Negroes so well versed in the judicial system, American politics and even the politics of countries abroad. I get goose bumps when I watch, listen to, and read Fred and Huey’s interviews because they seem to know more about politics and the justice system than the police officers, lawyers, and judges. And the courage they displayed was absolutely remarkable. And that brings me to the point of this post: the leadership philosophy of the BPP. I’m putting my science teacher hat back on to illustrate my point.
When geese fly, they fly in V-formation. Not many people really know why; they just know they fly in a V-formation and it looks cool. Effective leadership of any organization—schools, fraternal groups, civic and church groups, the workplace—should be what I call in the “Geese-V” formation. When geese fly in the V formation, they do so because it reduces wind resistance; it’s much easier to fly at high altitudes in that manner. Why do you think birds have the natural adaptation to be even shaped that way? Commercial and military aircraft are shaped like a ‘V’ for obvious reasons. Geese fly in that way for another reason as well. In the event that something happens to the “head” goose and he can’t continue to lead—wing problems, shot down by a little bad kids pellet gun or from a hunter, or simply from fatigue—any one member of the phalanx can and will, without a morsel of apprehension, lead the group. Each one is fully capable of leadership. During the Fred Hampton interview, the reporter asked him what would happen to the movement in the event that he was killed. What would happen to their community projects (ELCC 4), i.e., free health clinic, early childhood education classes, self-defense classes, political and judicial system education classes? Fred Hampton, almost with an “Obama-esque” calmness said, “We don’t produce buffoons. We produce leaders.” And that’s just it. What made the BPP such a strong unit was their embodiment of ELCC 6, political and economic consciousness, and ELCC 4, community relations. Each and every program was created and designed to build leaders so that each and every “student” of their movement could go back to their respective communities, their families and be well-equipped with the leadership knowledge, skills, and dispositions (Conceptual Framework) to organize and mobilize. If any one leader became weary, shot down, or forced into exile, there will always be someone who can and will, without a morsel of apprehension, continue the movement towards the vision and goal of the leader. That’s Geese-V.
There’s a quote from one of my favorite Shakespearean poems that I believe applies to so many aspects of life; so much, in fact, that I apply it to 7th grade science when we talk about the roles that living things play in an ecosystem. It reads,
“All the world’s a stage; and all the men and women merely players; they have their exists and their entrances; and one man in his time may play many parts…”
Shakespeare was saying that everything and everybody has a role in this world. Even if an individual passes along to a new role, a new life, or even passes along from the physical, the role he/she played doesn’t change. Roles don’t change; people do. This is Geese-V. Someone has to be prepared and eager to assume that role, and as the laws of nature work, someone always will. Fred Hampton said that when they killed off Malcolm and Martin, Huey rose up. When they got rid of Huey, Bobby was there. When they ran off Bobby, Eldridge stepped in. When they are all either exiled or killed, someone would be prepared and ready to assume the role. That was the BPP vision for the upliftment of the Black community: to train and prepare everyone in the community to be leaders so that the flames of leadership, empowerment, motivation, and resistance, and activism never die.
Your educational institution should be Geese-V. As a 21st century school leader, your institution of learning should be committed to preparing each and every one on staff to also be leaders. This sounds reminiscent of the meaning behind “Message to the Messagers” by Gil Scott Heron (if you haven’t heard this, go youtube it NOW!) You should be an advocate of providing relevant staff development sessions, giving them leadership opportunities, and ultimately preparing them so that they can evolve into empowering school leaders who have the capacity to lead in the leader’s absence or even as they find teacher and leadership positions at other schools (ELCC 2.4, 3.2). Furthermore, we must remember that our students are our number one customer, our primary concern. As did Fred Hampton and the rest of the BPP did, we should do all this so they we’re producing future leaders, not buffoons.