Who Shall Lead Us? The Question of Leadership For Black Millennials

by Ebonie Johnson Cooper

Panelists of leaders (and me!) at Defining Young Black Philanthropy, DC.
Panelists of leaders (and me!) at Defining Young Black Philanthropy, DC.

As I trolled the internets for a topic of interest today I decided to google the term ‘black millennials.’ Not surprisingly, given the media attention we’ve received from The Washington Post and HuffPost Impact, many of the articles were about us- yes, Friends of Ebonie. #MamaWeMadeIt. That was until I ran across an article on Policymic, by Camira Powell entitled: The Crisis of Black Leadership: As Old Hands Like Al Sharpton Show Their Age, Who Will Take Up the Reins?

jesse_jackson_and_al_sharpton-300x200Camira’s question is spot on, who will lead our community? The leaders of generations before us are getting older, slower and quite honestly, losing their ability to relate to the community as age, culture and values shift. That shift is highly representative of the times in which we live, from technology, class and economics, family structures, pop culture…the list goes on. My question is, in 10 years, who is going to speak for us?

In Camira’s article, she quotes Daniel Stringer, Ph.D from North Carolina, “I think one of the defining aspects of our age is a lack of black leadership (that is known on a national stage) who we look up to.” We can all think of local leaders among our friend groups and local communities but who among us, on a national level, speaks for us like Dr. King spoke for our parents or Rev. Abernathy spoke for the church?

Or is that what we really want in this generation?

Raymar Hampshire, founder SponsorChange
Raymar Hampshire, founder SponsorChange

Although there are disparaging statistics that seemingly define our generation and demographic, there are a number of us who have chosen to chart a different path.

We’ve highlighted progressive changemakers here on Friends of Ebonie. You can catch the black 40 Under 40 lists , 30 under 30 lists on any major black outlet and find at least one hundred more a year. So clearly we’re not not leading for a lack of options. Perhaps we’re we’re quite satisfied leading locally? Maybe Camira is right in her assertion that as we move forward and our current black leaders phase out, black millennials don’t necessarily desire a leader of the black community,’…labels like “black community leader” are too limiting for our generation,” says Camira.

Or is it that we don’t want to assume the type of responsibility our former and

29 y/o, SC Rep. Bakari Sellers
29 y/o, SC Rep. Bakari Sellers

current leaders uphold? It’s a hard road to tow to be the voice of a community of people united by race but divided across in as many ways as you can think of. To the outside world, we may seem all the same but black people aren’t monolithic. Hi.

Honestly, I’m torn. On one hand, I think our generation has the potential to be much more effective on a local level than our predecessors. We are much more aggressive, assertive and independent than those before us. Our commitment to change through grassroots work, philanthropy and social enterprise put us, generation-ally speaking, at a great advantage. Perhaps the secret to change is more local impact and less politics? Then again, what happens when our children are slayed like animals like Trayvon and Hadiya? Who is going to get on the MSNBC’s and CNN’s and speak for us? Who’s going to fight the larger fight for us then those of us on the ground are busy? Here’s where larger black leadership is necessary.

So I ask again, who among us will lead us? Or will we at all?

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