What does it mean to lead?

As a student in school, leadership was always something that was said to be important. The difficulty that I experienced was in the narrow scope of who and what was considered leadership caliber. One of the most natural things that people do is to emulate successful people that they can relate to. The problem with this in education, is that as a black man I was not shown leaders that I could see myself in. The only times that I saw black people in history books were during slavery and/or the civil rights movement and even then I was not taught the entire story of those time periods. I wasn’t taught about brilliant black leaders. I wasn’t taught about Black Wall Street, about the Harlem Renaissance, the Tuskegee Airmen, Nat Turner, Fredrick Douglass, Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois etc. Not being given examples of powerful historical figures made me question if leadership, excellence, and influence was something that I could attain. As I grew and researched information that was not accessible in my school experience I began to understand that I could define my own form of leadership. That Black men have been leaders before and can continue to be leaders now despite the invisibility of our historic figures in history curriculum.

This is a piece that I wrote in light of this topic that I have used to encourage college students in particular. To pose the question and reclaim the narrative of what it means to love and accept your identity and to be a leader by your own definition.

Here is the script of the piece:

What does it mean to lead?
And no I’m not talking about the stereotypical, Position over principal popularity contest president
Or the resident insistent, resident assistant more focused on policing than teaching
Speaking than acting, full-time but half assing,
Focused on being
On platforms and screens
seeing leadership
as an ends instead of a means
No I’m not talking about you either.
I’m talking about Really leading
I’m talking about creating a world you want your descendants to see
I’m talking action over authority
Principle over position
Picasso with the policy
On a Malcom X mission
I’m talking vision
Seeing things that have not yet been written
With all the intention of willing it to fruition
I’m talking turning a campus into your canvas
Painting with every beautiful shade of brown
Because it would not be art if we left either of them all white
No, see that would be our history books
Like the ones they read us in elementary school
Constantly telling us stories of how we don’t matter
Only seeing souls that resemble ours if they are bruised beaten or battered
Or chained, or sold, or property, treated improperly, or ridden by poverty, gentrified and then pushed out,
What does it mean to lead?
It means giving them something to write about!
Reminding them of the leaders they forgot about
Leaving a legacy
Giving them a novel of novel ideas
Not taking no for an answer
Navigating nobility
Using your gifts talents and abilities in symmetry
Being, the textbooks you want your children to read
What does it mean to lead?
To be the revolutionary revenant
Humble and intelligent
Shoulders sore city on your back you had to carry it
caring for your community taking education and then sharing it
A rose from the concrete owning your story and telling it.
I’m talking about standing in the face of injustice
Fighting for justice
Even if the only people fighting is just-us
Just us standing for our community
For diversity and unity
I’m talking more graduations and less premature eulogies
It looks like you and looks like me
Being bigger than titles
Worth more than scholarships
Refusing to be idle
Pick a passion and then follow it
We are not fighting for benefits we are fighting for change
And if you are here for anything less then get out of the way
I don’t why you’re here
Or why continue to stay
but my real leaders get in formation
Because we came to slay
We know what’s at Stake
As long as our schools are underfunded
And our children are over looked
As long as black men are afraid
To be killed injured or booked
As long as women are being body shamed
And told how to look
We will be standing in solidarity
Our foundation won’t be shook
We will be leading
Until we have created the world we want to live in
So when I ask, what does it mean to lead
Don’t tell me
I’d rather see it
I’d rather read it
We should only talk about change
If we’re willing to be it.
Don’t lead for the sake of leading
lead with purpose
Lead with passion
Lead with action
Because your world is waiting.

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