Commentary: For African Americans in Philly, a call to leadership

By January 19, 2017Uncategorized
Martin Luther King Jr. addresses marchers during his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963.

Originally Posted on philly.com

By Sharmain Matlock-Turner, David W. Brown, and Kelly Woodland

This year marks the last time that we will observe the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday under the auspices of the country’s first African American president. While that represents a significant milestone in our nation’s history, there is a bigger fact to consider:

If there was no King, there may not have been an Obama, and the connection to the two is directly related to how we prepare leaders of color.

Even though the two men had an impact that was separated by the death of one nearly 50 years ago and the ascendancy of the other 40 years later, their destinies are tied in a way that provides us lessons for developing African American leadership even today.

Before King became the civil rights icon that has inspired generations, he was nurtured in the pulpit and in the bosom of activism by his father – the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. From that foundation, King’s work empowered the types of networks that would eventually place the first African American in one of the highest seats of power in the world.

When it comes to diverse leadership, mentorship and building social capital are two of the most critical factors that ensure our society has the broadest array of talent in positions of influence shaping our global village.

Last year, the Philadelphia African American Leadership Forum (PAALF) examined the differences between African American-led and mainstream-led nonprofits. One of the key insights from our report was that rising African American nonprofit leaders lacked development opportunities and access to the type of social capital that benefited people such as the young Martin King and Barack Obama.

Based on that research, PAALF, along with the Urban League and the Nonprofit Executive Leadership Institute of Bryn Mawr College, is launching a training initiative that will provide a customized professional development initiative for ascending African American nonprofit leaders in our region.

This program, the Philadelphia African American Leadership Development Program, will run from February through June, with the support of United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey’s Impact Fund. The program will incorporate seven days of workshops that not only include classic leadership training blended with exposure to regional and national thought leaders, but also provide a safe platform for honest and hard-hitting discourse about the achievements and challenges of African American nonprofit executives.

The program is designed to improve capacity among nonprofit leaders to better serve the African American community; promote communication and information-sharing among these leaders; build social capital by deepening the relationships with the broader philanthropic community; and expose leaders to promising research and best practices.

While this type of development is important for leaders of every stripe, it is critically important for African Americans who – as our research showed – are more likely to direct organizations that are under-resourced, underfunded, and overwhelmed with meeting pressing social needs than their mainstream counterparts. When your normal mode is “doing more with less,” connecting with others facing the same challenges can make all the difference in an organization’s success or failure – no matter how noble the mission.

King’s most memorable speech proudly proclaimed to the nation that he “had a dream.” It was, and continues to be, the mantra of so many who continue to pursue goals that are grounded in the belief that we are all “created equal” and should be afforded the same opportunities to make those dreams reality. By linking what we’ve learned from our past to help inform our present, we can be best equipped to ensure ourselves a better future.

Sharmain Matlock-Turner is the president and CEO of the Urban Affairs Coalition and serves as co-chair of the PAALF. Sharmain@uac.org

David W. Brown, co-chair of PAALF, is an assistant professor of instruction at Temple University’s School of Media and Communication. David.brown0001@temple.edu

Kelly Woodland is an assistant vice president of Fairmount Ventures Inc., and former managing director of the PAALF. kwoodland@fairmountinc.com

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