I have an assignment for all those concerned about the so-called crisis of civil rights activist leadership in the black community. Your assignment, should you decide to accept it, is to learn the names of other black leaders.
When we say black leaders Rev Al Sharpton and Rev Jesse Jackson are the first names to come to mind. As PolicyMic pundit Camira Powell discovered, finding examples of black leadership beyond Sharpton and Jackson is just a matter of digging a little deeper.
The day and age of the single iconic figure, the quintessential black leader/spokesperson for all of black Americans has passed. Black leaders are diverse and spread throughout the community.
Black leaders can be found in all walks of life from education (Dr. Zoe Spencer, Steve Perry) and technology (Tristan Walker), to politics (Corey Booker) and media (Dr. Marc Lamont Hill). There are grassroots hip hop leaders such as Rosa Clemente and KRS-One. And then there are the traditional civil rights leaders.
Civil rights leaders are the ones most closely aligned with the notion of black leadership and there still are civil rights leaders that are providing leadership roles in the black community.
Ben Jealous is the president and CEO of the NAACP. The Oxford Rhodes Scholar is the youngest to ever have held that post. Under his leadership the NAACP registered over 1.2 million new voters for the 2012 election. The number of donors has increased from 16,000/year to 132,000. The number of online activists has increased from 175,000 to 675,000, and the total amount of activists now tops one million. Jealous has led the efforts against voter suppression laws and evangelizing African American support for marriage equality. Jealous has led the NAACP in efforts to fight “stop and frisk” laws in New York City and their report on over incarceration “Misplaced Priorities: Over Incarcerate, Under Educate” has been endorsed by leading conservatives such as Grover Norquist, former American Conservative Union President David Keene and Newt Gingrich.
Marc Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League and the former mayor of New Orleans Under his leadership the New Orleans business sector thrived, driven by a hearty tourism and convention center economy. Violent crime was reduced by 60%, the minority business sector grew and as a result Morial’s approval ratings hung around 70% during his tenure. As leader of the National Urban League he oversees the annual production of one of the most widely read and comprehensive reports on the state of the black community in America. The NUL is actively involved with transforming conditions in the black community. They partner with grassroots organizations and industries to bring solutions to some of the systemic problems in the community. Open Doorways is a partnership with the National Association of Professional Women to offer inner-city middle-school girls a chance to work with professional women as role models. The NUL is an active member of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. The 48-member group consists of religious organizations, child welfare advocacy groups, public health professionals, social justice, and political action organizations. Stop the Violence Movement is a hip hop led organization that has donated all the proceeds from its record “Self-Destruction” to the coalition.
Jealous and Morial are just two in a long list of hands-on black civil rights leaders well worth knowing. So the next time you feel your knee jerk when you hear the phrase “black leader," just remember there’s more to black leadership than the “Revs.”