Leaders Who Spoke Out

Reflecting during Black History month is not just about reciting the accomplishments of African Americans. It means more than simply celebrating contributions. To me, it means drawing upon their collective wisdom to ascertain their leadership skills.

To do so, it seemed necessary to think back to my experience last fall at the Freedom’s Sisters Exhibit at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore, Maryland where I was a guest lecturer and featured author signing my book Leadership Building Blocks: An Insider’s Guide to Success.

At the museum, I was more than honored to share my seven leadership principles and share the moment with those considered the greatest sheroes of all times. So, in my posting this week, I thought I would draw upon their collective wisdom and how they engaged courage, one of the fundamentals of Leadership Building Blocks: An Insider’s Guide to Success.

Rather than just provide another summary about their lives, let’s take a closer look at Congresswomen Shirley Chisholm and Barbara Jordan and activist Fannie Lou Hamer. Each was known for speaking out against injustice and they did so with courage and vision.

As the first African American woman elected to Congress in 1968, Shirley Chisholm was known for her famous declaration “unbought and unbossed.” And when she became the first African American to become as presidential candidate in 1972 her fierce tenacity persisted. In many ways, her courageous first steps paved the way for so many other African Americans, women, and people of color to seek and gain positions as elected officials and leaders nationwide. I would dare say her legacy gave rise to the election of this nation’s first African American president Barack Obama.

And what about Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights activist active in Mississippi politics during the 1960s? Even when she was brutally beaten in a jailhouse she still stood her ground and has been known for being “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” She apparently once said that “If I had any sense, I’d have been a little scared. But what was the point of being scared?” Her action paved the way for so many to have the strength to stand while others cower in fear.

Who among us can ever forget the eloquence of late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan? She remained steadfast during the congressional inquiry during the Watergate hearings and was a vociferous leader in multiple forums. She did not allow her leadership position to be simply a bully pulpit but rather an opportunity to bring about real change through courageous reflections. One of my favorite quotes she is known for is still applicable and poignant more than twenty years later: “This country can ill afford to function using less than half of its human resources, brain power, and kinetic energy.”

For a moment, if we just paused to reflect beyond accomplishments and to see the underlying courage they had then we will be able to emulate their behavior to become even more courage leaders ourselves.

-Dawn McCoy, author of Leadership Building Blocks: An Insider’s Guide to Success

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