We Need New Leadership

By Barney Blakeney  

What’s that poem which starts with some line like ‘death be not proud’? Before the New Year rang in, death had a field day taking out a lot of good folks. Father Ted Lewis, Rollins Edwards, Mrs. Ethel Taylor and Rodney ‘Fats’ Alexander all passed in the last few days! I try to write obituary stories for some of those who really rock our world, but I can’t keep up!

My intent for this column was to write about leadership – again. I had a recent experience which forced me to think about that subject. We really need to focus on leadership development. I read a recent NNPA story written by Stacey M. Brown who said Barack Obama, a constitutional law professor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, in 2017 handed over the keys to the White House to a reality TV star accused of sexual assault. That situation should say something about the quality of leadership we have and the need to develop better leadership.

Dynamic leaders like Ted Lewis and Ethel Taylor who contribute so much to our community often go unknown to most of us. I first heard of Father Lewis after he became a member of Charleston County School Board. Had never heard of the guy before that. During his tenure on the board as a West Ashley representative, Father Lewis not only served with distinction, he became one of my ‘go to’ guys for public education stories.

I had a similar experience with Mrs. Taylor. Had never seen or heard of the lady until one day this stunning Black woman, all of five feet tall, showed up at The Chronicle’s office. I soon learned Mrs. Taylor was a very special person. It seemed she just wanted to be part of stuff that makes our community better. The retiree from New York City would get in where she fit in. When I met Mrs. Taylor, she was working with the Emancipation Day Parade coordinators. She later would join Fred ‘Pompey’ Jones as a coordinator for the local Junteenth celebration.

Neither Father Lewis or Mrs. Taylor were Charleston natives – Lewis was from Galveston, TX. and Mrs. Taylor was a New Yorker. They both just dropped their buckets where they were and went to work. They did the thankless jobs. They didn’t seek credit or recognition. They never were the guys talking into the microphones and you never saw them on camera. Despite being the workhorses who made all the pomp and circumstance possible, if you heard or saw them at all they were standing in the background allowing others to take center stage. Both were phenomenal leaders!

The passing of dynamic leaders like Rollins Edwards, Ted Lewis and Ethel Taylor makes me again think how important it is that we develop new leadership which not only is capable, but also is committed. Edwards, Lewis and Taylor had skills, organizational skills, that made them capable of providing the leadership we needed, but they also were committed. For them it wasn’t about fame of fortune. They saw a need, had the skill to fulfill it and had the desire to serve!

Everybody can’t be a good leader. Good leaders are made. They’re groomed and molded. It helps if they’re committed, but they must be capable. Thankfully, we’ve got some folks who are committed to serving our community. Unfortunately, not all of them are capable. I think that’s where we have to be more deliberate.

We talk about there not being enough Black teachers or policemen. Are we doing what it takes to create a pool of Black teachers and policemen? We expect the white man to fix the problem. The white man has to recruit and hire more Black teachers, administrators and policemen but are we encouraging our children to go into those professions? We get mad when the white man tells us he’s doing all he can to recruit Black candidates, but can’t find them. I think that’s where good visionary leadership comes in. Why aren’t we developing processes that push our children into those areas where they’re most needed? Every kid doesn’t have to become a doctor, lawyer, engineer or architect.

Talking to a friend the other night she said, “Barney, you have to think outside the box.” I think that’s what good leadership does – think outside the box. Some folks see things as they are and ask why, good leaders see things as they can be and ask why not. Unfortunately, too many of our leaders can’t see beyond their noses. Grooming today produces leadership tomorrow.

And then there’s the thing about commitment. Our community is blessed with a lot of folks who truly are committed to serving. I know some folks who have been on the job for decades. I have hard words with most of them half the time because of differences in opinions, but who knows where we’d be if not for their commitment? I had a knock down, drag out the other day with one guy – we ended up hanging up the phone on each other – no, it wasn’t Dave this time! But like Dave, the guy has been on the front lines for at least 20 years, I know. I’m convinced, were it not for that guy, a lot of stuff wouldn’t have gotten the focus it needed.

Just as it’s important for our leadership to develop capable new leadership, it’s just as important to develop committed new leadership. We’ve got a lot of people in our community who have the ability to be good leaders, but won’t step up to the plate. Thanks to young people like Anjene ‘AJ’ Davis, Anastasia Ketchen and John Singletary, there’s hope for the future. But there are so many others just sitting on the sidelines soppin’ up the gravy produced by others.

Again, good leadership doesn’t just happen, it’s developed! I guess it’s hard to develop a sense of responsibility in our young people when our adults don’t have it – you can’t teach somebody something you don’t know yourself. That may be the most daunting challenge our leadership faces. But no matter how daunting the challenge, failure is not an option.

The leadership of our communities and our country is in the hands of some unscrupulous people. Indeed, we must take back our country and make America great. There are crooks, shysters and perverts at every level of leadership in our society. You know we’re living in dangerous times when the mantle of the nation’s leadership is passed from a professor to a pervert.

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