Given at the Arkansas Black Mayors Association on March 22, 2019
I am thankful for the opportunity to speak for a few minutes with this august group of men and women who gather here from across the state of Arkansas. It warms my heart to see this group of Black leaders who have committed themselves to a term of public service as mayors. You are the executive leadership, the figure heads, and face of your cities.
Since the early part of twentieth century, Blacks have chosen to focus on political power as the primary means to bring about social and economic change. We stand on the shoulders of men such as Dr. King and Reverend Abernathy. We are encouraged by the strength of Fannie Lou Hamer and Rosa Parks. They sought to access the halls of political power through nonviolent direct action to secure the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. These men and women flung open wide the doors of opportunity for all of us today. These are just a couple of reasons fifty-one cities are represented by Black males and females in Arkansas today in contrast to an Arkansas of that same 1960’s period which had no Black Mayors. There were glimmers of hope though in the midst of a difficult period leading up to the funeral of legalized segregation, Jim Crow, and Jane Crow.
Historian Carl Moneyhon, identifies significant economic foundation for Arkansas Blacks in the early twentieth century was tied to the land. Moneyhon, observes political representation by Blacks was “primarily agricultural…” because “a majority of black voters lived on the farm” (p.223). What we can also learn is that there was a growing middle class of Black Arkansans even in the midst of a segregated and overtly racist Arkansas. This growing middle class included clergy, educators, doctors, lawyers, and other jobs marked as professional (Moneyhon, 1985). So from Little Rock to Pine Bluff, from counties such as Chicot, Desha, and Phillips County, the middle class began to energize our Black population even under such dehumanizing racist environment.
What does this information mean for us today? How can we use political power as a means to open doors of greater social and economic power to bring vitality or sustain the communities you men and women represent?
I believe there is an abundance of great opportunity for our Arkansas cities and towns. If we look at our history and the ingenuity of Black Arkansans post-Reconstruction through the Civil Rights Era, there is no reason there can not be many Wiley Jones. “Wiley Jones had risen from slavery and the farm to become a wealthy man. By the end of the century, he owned the Wiley Jones Street Car line, town lots in Pine Bluff…Contemporaries estimated Jones’s wealth at $300,000.00 by 1890” (Moneyhon, 1985; p.225). As political leaders you have been given the authority to create opportunities of success for the citizens you represent. It is a heavy responsibility but with support it can be accomplished.
Our organization works with cities and towns to provide technical support to create nonprofits and develop leadership which can create opportunities of change for cities and towns such as yours. Since 2018 in partnership with the University of Central Arkansas we have established a community development nonprofit in the city of Mitchellville with Mayor Carl Griswold. This year we have started similar work in the city of Eudora with the leadership of their new Mayor Travis Collins to focus on educational support, housing, and workforce training. The common thread I have seen unite these different cities is a passionate commitment of transformation despite resource limitation. This is part of our history in Arkansas and yet history has shown Black Arkansans have the faith and leadership to take two fish and five loaves to be a blessing for many generations.
These future generations are why you are here today and when we continue to look forward harnessing the victories of the past, I believe the opportunities for each of your cities will be great. CoHO want to be a part of supporting the creation of those opportunities.
Thank you and God Bless.
Dr. Martin L. King (1929-1969) stood as one of America’s most influential leaders in the twenty-century. Dr. King’s contributions toward the recognition of African Americans as human beings and participating citizens in the United States, represented a critical turning point in the history of the United States. Dr. King represented a strong example of an organizational leader who effectively communicates vision, supports that vision with intellectual depth, and implements self-critique in order to benefit those around him.
Transformational leadership consists of four behavioral categories; idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration (Bass, Avolio, & Atwater; 1996; Sun & Anderson, 2012; Yukl, 2013). Idealized influence represents a behavioral manifestation in which the leader’s behavior galvanizes a group of persons to achieve a particular vision through selfless acts, integrity of values and actions, and willingness to share in the difficulties. Bass, Avolio, and Atwater (1996) state inspirational motivation represents a leadership behavior in which a level of “meaning and optimism” which serves to press followership forward (p.10). The behavior energizes the skills of the group surrounding the transformational leader to accomplish a vision through “symbols to focus subordinate effort” (Yukl, 2013; p. 322). Transformational leaders communicate to followers and the larger context; language, concepts, and words to engage the intellect. A transformational leader illuminates the apparent inconsistencies in the given culture and applies an intricate level of thought, arguments, and persuasion to mobilize followership. The final behavior involves individualized behavior which manifests as development for future leaders. The individualized behavior works towards reformation of a people to arrive at a higher ethical behavior which has implications for the greater society.
The Transformational Leadership of King
Dr. Martin L. King Jr. lived as a transformational leader who demonstrated leadership behavior which mobilized diverse persons by a compelling vision; communicated a stimulating and diverse nonviolent philosophy; and conducted himself with a high level of emotional strength to lead the Civil Rights Movement and eliminate racial inequality. In 1956, Dr. King becomes a leader in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, followed by the cafeteria sit-ins of the 1960’s (Garrow, 1987). Dr. King’s signature moment is the “I Have a Dream” speech that he communicates in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963 within the larger context of The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (Godwin et al). Farris (2009) identifies how the sixties cannot be properly understood apart from the influence of Dr. Martin L. King and his work in the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King’s behavior and actions offered one of America’s strongest demonstrations of transformational leadership which extended beyond the African American context and affected all aspects of the American human experience.
Dr. Martin L. King offered what could be described as “communicating an appealing vision, and uses symbols to focus subordinate effort” (Yukl, 2013; p.322). Dr. Martin L. King operated in what Brueggemann (2001) termed the “prophetic imagination.” The prophetic imagination involves the speaker in the living process of vision execution working for the realization of that compelling vision through “criticizing and energizing” (Brueggemann, 2001, p. 4).
The second aspect of communicating vision involves the usage of symbols to communicate the vision and focus efforts. Dr. Martin L. King’s ability to invoke a strong vision combined with words of visual imagery owed its genesis to the Black Church.
The symbols and descriptions Dr. King commonly evoked originated from the Bible such as, “let justice roll down like water” or governmental documents such as the Declaration of Independence which Dr. King stated was the “promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.” These symbols worked to critique the existing situation and compelled listeners to see in some measure what the transformational leader desired to see as a reality.
The ability to influence extends beyond persons and includes the influence of events, contexts, or extends from a larger group. Dr. Martin L. King Jr’s appropriate use of power and influence created the opportunity to communicate intellectual stimulation which consists of Scripture, Gandhian philosophy, and human concern which compels groups and government towards a more just society. Dr. Martin L. King Jr. executed his will through the use of cogent, Biblical arguments on the larger stage of public speaking and his personal participation in nonviolent civil disobedience which represents the application of his philosophical approach.
Second, Dr. King implemented power in the form of conflict resolution. Dr. King’s involvement with the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) and the bus boycotts represented an opportunity for Dr. King and his Southern White counterparts to engage in discussions to achieve larger goals.
The third manner in which Dr. King used in the implementation of power manifested in the large pockets of the Civil Rights Movement which acknowledged Dr. King as the leader of the movement. Dr. Martin L. King Jr. demonstrated through the appropriate use of power and moral authority, both shaped by Christian philosophy and Gandhian methodology to offer intellectual stimulation among many followers, the South, and the larger nation.
Emotional Stability and Maturity
Dr. Martin L. King Jr. crafted an approach of nonviolent civil disobedience, which compelled followers to illuminate the issues of segregation and to rescue the soul of the oppressor. This behavior is emotional stability and maturity. According to Dr. Martin L. King, he wrestled with fear and anxiety at the beginnings of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. King (1967) illustrated in some two years prior to his assassination his emotional stability found solace in God speaking the words to encourage Dr. King to stand for righteousness and truth with the certainty of God’s presence. Garrow (1987) comments, “the vision in the kitchen allowed King to go forward with feelings of companionship of self-assurance, and of mission that were vastly greater spiritual resources” (p.442). Dr. Martin L. King’s experience reminds the reader of Jesus emotional experience prior to the crucifixion (Matthew 26:36-46, English Standard Version). While Dr. King’s experience of emotional instability is qualitatively different than that of Jesus Christ, the experiences both contain the subjects under duress because of the situation and the responding encouragement of God.
Therefore, transformational leaders have a level of self-awareness about themselves which compels him or her to pursue personal care before proceeding to lead others to care for others. Dr. Martin L. King approach to nonviolent civil disobedience requires an emotional stability and maturity that demonstrates a care for other people.
Dr. Martin L. King Jr. represented himself as a transformational leader who demonstrated leadership behavior which mobilized diverse persons by a compelling vision; communicated a stimulating and diverse nonviolent philosophy; and conducted himself with a high level of emotional strength to lead the Civil Rights Movement and eliminate racial inequality.
Organizational leaders in diverse contexts possess the opportunity to communicate a vision that critiques the current situation which leads to the energizing of a group of people to draw the compelling vision into reality. Additionally, leaders have the responsibility to develop themselves and those around them in a manner that elevates intellectual capacity and emotional stability for the good of humanity.
If you ever have the blessing to meet Aaron; it is an experience. Aaron enjoys life and through the very expression of his smile, Aaron reminds you that God has indeed put good things in our creation. Aaron is a strong husband and father. He enjoys using his gift of music to inspire and set the mood for couples.
What does it mean to be a husband?
Ironically after seeing my parents split at the age of 6, it made me want to be the best husband that I could be. Kinda crazy thinking for a 6 year old but I remember it like it was yesterday. After the divorce was final, I went into the bathroom by my room, closed the door, sat down and prayed to God. I made him a promise that I would save myself for marriage if He promised to send me a wife that would never leave my side. Lord knows, I failed on my promise but God still had my request on His To- Do List. He was faithful even when I was not faithful. (Insert praise break). So to me, being a husband means that I will always be available to the gift that God has given me; emotional, physically and spiritually. I will be gentle with my wife’s heart and feelings. I will be faithful. I will protect her. The more that I think about it, really words can’t fully express what it truly means to be a husband. I mean, there’s 7.2 billion people in this world and God saw it fit to pair us together to live and die together. So as a husband I am to protect the heart of my wife that God has lend me.
What does it mean to be a father?
Being a father is something that is kinda hard for me to describe. I tend to think about what being a GOOD father is based off my memories of what I wished my father was like when I was a kid (He is a GREAT father now by the way). So being a father to me means being the biggest cheerleader for my sons. It means always having their back. It means standing by their side and always being a good Godly example leading in the front of them and blazing the path for them to follow. It means being vulnerable and admitting when I have made a mistake. It means celebrating all their successes and teaching them how to overcome their short comings.
What is the example you are seeking to set for your children?
I desire for my sons to follow and trust in Christ, to believe in themselves and stand for what is right. Therefore I try to set those examples and make my work visible to them so that they can follow the appropriate path. I want to set an example of hard work, patience and faith.
What contributions are you making to your city?
I currently work as the Event Coordinator/Marketing Director for Global Kids- AR/jUSt (Just Us). We as an organization focus on transforming urban youth into successful students as well as global and community leaders. Using interactive and experiential methods to educate youth about critical international and foreign policy issues. Last year we raised over 40K through crowd-funding, special events and corporate sponsorship to send 8 unprivileged children to Costa Rico for this experience. We are looking to do the same this year and also start jUSt afterschool programs in several communities across Central Arkansas.
What do you desire as a legacy? I want to be remembered as a very fashionable man that had fun doing God’s will.
What is your hope for African American Men?
With 50% of all African American marriages ending in divorces, I hope that we as African American men start understanding our value in our household and in turn lower that rate amongst black families. When we change that, we can make a positive impact in our communities and ultimately change the world.