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The Death of a Leadership Program?

Posted on: July 29th, 2012

Potpourri: The Death of a Leadership Program?:

In America, white males don’t think often about being white males. Conversely, white females never forget their sex, African-American males are continuously aware of their blackness, and African-American females think constantly about both their race and gender. How do I know? The late Reverend Charles King, a respected, blunt race and gender sensitivity teacher, and many friends, taught me so. In one of many exercises to open white male eyes, the Rev. King, a black man, made a white man kneel before 35 of us with a glass of water balanced on his head and recite the Star Spangled Banner. The task was humiliating and a tiny window into being a minority in a white male dictated society.

Back then it stunned me to realize how many of us are not nearly as racially sensitive as we think. We do not appreciate how countless people live every single day feeling different, “less than,” on the outside. Since that awakening in 1990 occasional minority rage has seemed more understandable to me. I will never forget the insights and where I got them: Leadership Winston-Salem. Perhaps you have or have participated in such a program in your community

Where I live, the 10-month program of monthly classes on community issues and institutions also created personal links that endure. At a non-profit scholarship program breakfast last year, a classmate from 13 years ago sat two seats away from me. Another classmate was among those honored at that same ceremony. One more alumnus sat beside me later that day at a civic club luncheon. Yet another classmate joined me on a panel at a local college. It’s like that. Leadership Winston-Salem has woven a barely visible but functioning fabric of connections into the community’s foundation. Hundreds of us are cross-linked through an almost 20-year-old network. Thousands more have experienced much the same through sister programs throughout the nation.

That’s why it saddened me to read that Leadership Winston-Salem may end.

According to the local newspaper, the board of directors is evaluating whether the program can and should survive. Private and corporate support is declining. Many corporate giants and executives present at the 1984 founding are gone. Soon, two staff members will not be paid until the board decides whether there will be a class of 2005.

With Leadership W-S’s future in limbo I invite those who graduated from such a program to reflect on what you gained. I’ll do so now.

I remember learning the now apocryphal story of how one class member, upon hearing of the dearth of medicines for the poor, helped start a program providing surplus pharmaceuticals from the medical center to the needy.

I remember going to the juvenile detention center and listening to a 14 year old boy reel off the names of the latest street weapons with the ease of a 6 year old calling out breakfast cereal names.

I remember the city manager and county manager giving an entertaining “dog and pony show” explaining how government works and faces challenges.

I remember the drumbeat of the need to heal divisions between races:

On a panel long ago, the publisher of an African-American weekly heatedly challenged the then publisher of the local major daily to count how many blacks were in the newsroom. I believe the answer was one. (A deficiency now addressed.)

One night the white member of another leadership class was so upset by the race and gender seminar exercises that I had to console her for an hour to stop her crying.

While race relations appear to have improved in our community since 1990, I recall an African-American classmate and me sharing a code word to remind ourselves to be vigilant. The word was “race riot.” We never needed it.

Most of all I remember the relationships. To this day I can pick up the phone and call a classmate in business, government or the community.

Leadership Winston-Salem had and has that impact. How about the program in your area? Is it sound? Do you even have one? I think they are irreplaceable.

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