What is leadership? Is it always knowing what to do in a situation? Is it taking charge and making sure that everyone who follows you lives to tell the tale? Or is it just always doing the right thing without hesitation or doubt?
These were the questions swirling around in my head as I headed to the annual Men of Color leadership summit.
Last week in Washington D.C, the literal mecca of leadership and power of this great nation. This incredible opportunity was honestly something I didn’t think I was cut out for.
I’m sorry to say that all of my life, I have been a follower, not a leader in any real sense of the word. I was ready to change that and hoped those who were running the seminar this year could help me become the leader I hoped was inside of me.
The seminar started on a Thursday and concluded on Sunday. It was an incredible gathering of minority men of all colors, from all states, backgrounds and experiences.
The panel of speakers for the event was just as diverse. I learned a true leader must look after his financial well-being; something I believe everyone could use help with.
In another speaker’s session, I experienced a connection with all attendees in that group when we sat around and shared our true stories of racism which was directed toward us for no other reason than the color of our skin.
We found out through seminars that no matter where we are from, we have felt the cold hand of racism and discrimination. In order to overcome, we must rise above.
The seminar was capped off by the incredible speaker/hypeman, Brian Heat. He made us all stand up, shout affirmation of strength and positivity, which have carried on outside of the seminar. Much to the chagrin of my roommates, who disapprove of my shouting in the morning!
The seminar was great but I truly learned what being a leader was from the places we visited outside of the seminar. I had the utmost privilege to see the incredible African American museum.
The museum was laid out with the bottom three levels all about the struggle and pain of those who were kidnapped into slavery, discriminated against and killed for sport.
The top three levels were dedicated to the triumph and to the accomplishments and contribution that African Americans have made to America. We also visited the Oprah Winfrey museum, it showed the hard work of an extraordinary woman.
After that incredible experience, we got to travel, visiting the monuments of some of America’s greatest leaders: Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.
The true treat for me was when we got to stop at the recently built Martin Luther King Jr. monument. Carved out of stone is the image of the legendary civil rights leader; surrounded by his famous sayings, which have echoed throughout history giving courage to the feeble and strength to the downtrodden.
It was surreal seeing an image tower over you of your hero, and knowing that others felt the same awe that you did at that moment. As I sat on the plane flying back to Dayton, OH, I once again thought upon what makes a leader?
I finally decided that a leader is a person who sees something wrong in the world and strives to fix it, with no concern for their own well-being, but rather concern about the future generation that will be affected.
A leader is someone who cares and does the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. And finally, a leader inspires all those things in everyday people so they can become leaders in their own right.
I don’t know if I am that kind of leader yet, but I know I’m working every day to become a man who people can look up to and smile in awe for all the things he did to make their lives better then they could ever imagine.
Justin A. Baker