Black Leadership: The Next Generation

As today's leaders grow older, who will our future leaders be?

mayor Ron Kirk of Dallas is identified as a leader who may have peaked politically and could become an organization leader.

Melanie L. Campbell, 40, executive director and CEO of the D.C.-based National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP), an organization dedicated to increasing African American participation in civil society, says major organizations face the challenge of better utilizing younger talent. “We need the opportunity to bring [the experiences of the younger generation], technology, the ability to raise money, and the networks we have to our organizations. If we find ways to utilize [younger] talent more, I think you’ll start seeing more younger people joining our organizations because they’ll see a little more of themselves in them. We’ve missed the boat in many ways by not utilizing folks who have had much to bring to the conversation and are willing to do the work, not just hold a title,” says Campbell.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles-based National Alliance for Positive Action, thinks 35 to 45 is the ideal age for leaders to be taken seriously by fund-giving corporations, government agencies, and foundations. Needed credentials are: a college education and professional, business, or elected political experience. “When you hit 35—45 years old, you’ve still got some youth, vitality, vigor, drive, and energy, but you’re also beginning to get maturity and experience,” says Hutchinson. Conversely, front-runners for the presidency of premier civil rights organizations, like the National Urban League, must have already achieved considerable national stature — and in many cases, this has been a result of the Civil Rights movement.

Here’s a test for a would-be leader’s suitability: “Are you politically connected? Do you know who the political players are? Are you able to talk the language of business leaders and foundation directors? What kind of entree do you have there, and what kind can you develop?” asks Hutchinson. The new leadership must also know how to cultivate relationships with the conservative Republicans who dominate today’s political landscape.

The founder put TransAfrica Forum on the map and rebuilt the anti-apartheid movement, but success left the organization needing to redefine its mission. “Now we find ourselves in what many people refer to as a global economic apartheid. There is vast polarization of wealth on this planet. International financial institutions are blackmailing countries. We’re building on the legacy of Randall [Robinson, TransAfrica founder and CEO], but we’re taking the organization in somewhat different directions,” says Fletcher.

A turning point for the NUL will be its annual July conference, in Pittsburgh. The board of trustees will review the five-year strategic plan being developed, and the newly chosen president will be installed. After the CEO has been in office a year, the public should know about any new directions for the organization.

What Hamilton says of the NUL’s mission and situation applies equally well to all black organizations: “The economy is, without a doubt, one of the greatest challenges we face today as an institution, as we try to address the issue of economic self-sufficiency for the individuals

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