Students Discuss Contemporary Black Leaders at African Ancestry Month Event

Photo by Nicole Williams

The Alumni Lounges became a forum for debate and discussion on Thursday at “Past and Present: Black Leadership in America,” a talk hosted by Tanadjza Robinson, coordinator for equity and diversity programs, as a part of African Ancestry Month. The discussion primarily questioned why the faces of black leadership are largely those of the past, and discussed who the contemporary black leaders are in America today.

“Myself and the African Ancestry committee decided that having an event that focused on black leadership would be a good idea,” said Robinson. “Given all of the recent events that have taken place in Ferguson and New York and countless other states within the nation, about race relations and police brutality, the topic of black leadership came up, and is there any black leadership in America today.”

Robinson prompted the discussion by posing questions to those in attendance. Questions included: “What is a leader?” and “Is black leadership dead in America?”

The discussion veered from topic to topic. It was proposed throughout the discussion that racism is a social construct in America. This led to questions about why black leadership is less visible today. Some students suggested that the lack of visibility is because America is not in a transition period, and therefore great leaders are less likely to rise to the forefront. Others suggested that there may be many influential black leaders whose work is not publicized because of a biased media.  

Robinson also used this talk to educate the audience on important contemporary black leaders. A few of the people she talked about are Melissa Harris-Perry, a journalist and political commentator who consistently discusses race issues on her show on MSNBC, Cornel West, an activist, author and member of the Democratic Socialists of America, Bell Hooks, feminist and author, and Iyanla Vanzant, a spiritual leader and inspirational speaker who hosts the show “Iyanla, Fix My Life,” on the O.W.N. network. Most of the leaders Robinson mentioned were names that the audience did not recognize.

The students in the crowd sparked a lively discussion, indicating their passion for the topic.

“I attended this event to discuss the importance of black leadership in America and to learn more about who exactly are the up-and-coming black leaders,” said Christopher Cannon, a junior. “I think it's important to be educated on the importance of black leaders, if only because we have been such a prominent figure in American history and culture. Also, as a black male myself, I enjoy learning about who my leaders are even though they have not been typically portrayed in popular media.”