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Focus on Black Leadership

Black History Month is a great opportunity to reflect upon the contributions and legacies of great Black leaders past and current.

Focus on Black Leadership

Americans celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January and Black History Month in February. It’s a chance to look back on the long, unique journey of American history and acknowledge the sacrifice across the decades of leaders who worked to make the United States a more just country for all.

Civil Rights Leaders

Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were iconic leaders of the US civil rights movement. In The Sword and the Shield, author Peniel E. Joseph profiles both men, comparing and contrasting their influences, their growing political awareness, and their overarching ideas that inspired a successful push for social change and equal justice for Black Americans, including passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Image of: The Sword and the Shield
Book Summary

The Sword and the Shield

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. led a revolution in race relations around the world.

Peniel E. Joseph Basic Books
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Both men emphasized “radical Black citizenship,” the recognition that full participation in society is more than just the absence of discrimination. Their struggle for equal access to the ballot box continues today, with organizations like Color of Change taking up the leadership mantle.

A genuinely seismic event in American history, the Birmingham protests cleaved the nation in two, forcing citizens of all backgrounds to take honest measure of the intersection between race and democracy in national life.

Peniel E. Joseph

Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and other leaders of the Civil Rights movement built upon the work of earlier movement leaders including Frederick Douglass, a former slave who led the fight for Black freedom in the 19th century, during the Civil War and subsequent struggle for voting rights, finally added to the Constitution for Black men in 1870.

Image of: Frederick Douglass
Book Summary

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass’s goals still hold: The US must fix the wrongs that created and feed black inequality.

David W. Blight Simon & Schuster
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Historian David W. Blight brings Douglass’s compelling journey to political leadership to vivid life in Frederick Douglass. Douglass was also an early feminist advocate.

In nearly every waking hour, if with people, he provided the object for their curiosity and gaze: He had to be the Black man who was really a pleasing brown and partly white, the slave who was also so eloquent, the genius that bondage could not destroy, the embodiment of a story that kept on giving.

David W. Blight

Noted scholar and author Ibram X. Kendi illustrates in Stamped from the Beginning the way racism marred the US democratic experiment from the country’s founding. Kendi shows racists in every era shaped the political reality that keeps segregation and discrimination in place, no matter the letter of the law.

Image of: Stamped from the Beginning
Book Summary

Stamped from the Beginning

Ibram X. Kendi offers a landmark history of the complex, ever-evolving face of racism in the United States.

Ibram X. Kendi Bold Type
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Kendi’s book, a National Book Award winner, is currently one of the most frequently banned books from public libraries and schools. A Scene on Radio podcast, Seeing White looks at racism through the history of constructing white supremacist ideology.

It is in the intelligent self-interest of white Americans to challenge racism, knowing they will not be free of sexism, class bias, homophobia, and ethnocentrism until Black people are free of racism.

Ibram X. Kendi

In Black Software, media and culture scholar Charlton McIlwain recounts the history of the Civil Rights movement within a history of digital transformation in the United States that, once again, left Black communities out.

Image of: Black Software
Book Summary

Black Software

Today’s push for racial justice is rooted in Black America’s long relationship with computing technology and the internet.

Charlton McIlwain Oxford UP
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In the 1970s, as the computing industry exploded, elite universities like MIT walled off access to computer sciences to students of color. At the same time, they worked with companies like IBM to develop law enforcement surveillance systems that contributed to abusive and discriminatory policing in Black communities that continues today.

The computer stood somewhere between Black people’s intractable strivings to gain access to opportunity, and white America’s stubborn and belligerent refusal to grant it.

Charlton McIlwain

But by the 1990s, several Black tech entrepreneurs pioneered software to connect Black people to the internet and to each other. Software engineer Malcolm Cassell and lawyer E. David Ellington founded NetNoir, which provided Black content for AOL in the early days of the World Wide Web.

Economic Leadership

In The Color of Money, author Mehrsa Baradaran explores US government policies that fed into the economic discrimination of Black communities. For example, New Deal programs designed to uplift all Americans during the Great Depression largely didn’t affect Black citizens.

Image of: The Color of Money
Book Summary

The Color of Money

Black Americans have far less wealth than white Americans because the US economy is rigged.

Mehrsa Baradaran Belknap Press
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Out of necessity, African-American communities pioneered “circular economies” writes Douglas Rushkoff. Shut out of labor unions and discriminated against by moneylenders, they used their collective wealth to invest in their own communities.

Image of: How Centuries of Black Strength Created a Blueprint for Economic Recovery
Article Summary

How Centuries of Black Strength Created a Blueprint for Economic Recovery

The Underground Railroad gave the enslaved freedom and money. That network offers modern fiscal lessons.

Douglas Rushkoff Medium
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In 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement borrowed the idea of mutual aid societies to set up a National Bail Fund Network for people arrested during political protests.

The wealth gap is where historic injustice breeds present suffering.

Mehrsa Baradaran

In deeply segregated post-World War II America, Pepsi took notice of the burgeoning economic power of Black Americans, recounts Stephanie Caparell in The Real Pepsi Challenge, and began a marketing campaign targeting them, hiring a team of African-American executives, a first in corporate America. Other companies quickly followed suit.

Image of: The Real Pepsi Challenge
Book Summary

The Real Pepsi Challenge

By hiring black executives and tapping the African-American market in 1940, Pepsi staked out new ground in the cola war.

Stephanie Capparell Free Press
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Robert L. Johnson started Black Entertainment Television (BET) in 1979 for $15,000 and made savvy deals to build his subscriber base over the next decades with powerful players including HBO. In 1991, he took BET public, the first Black-owned company on the New York Stock Exchange, then bought back stock to regain fiscal control in 1997. Viacom acquired BET in 2000, and Johnson became the first African-American billionaire. Entertainment entrepreneur Tyler Perry started out “poor as hell,” but, inspired by Oprah Winfrey’s success through maintaining ownership of her own work, he built a media empire defying every Hollywood convention while retaining ownership of all his own intellectual property.

Image of: From “Poor as Hell” to Billionaire: How Tyler Perry Changed Show Business Forever
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From “Poor as Hell” to Billionaire: How Tyler Perry Changed Show Business Forever

How did Tyler Perry start “poor as hell” and become one of the world’s richest entertainers? Madea knows.

Madeline Berg Forbes
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Perry built a 330-acre film production studio in Atlanta from which he creates his films and TV series. He recently made a deal with ViacomCBS worth $150 million yearly plus an equity stake in BET+ streaming service to produce content. Forbes estimates he’s now a billionaire.

The very fact that I am here on this land, the very fact that hundreds of people – Black and brown people – come here to make a living, that is effecting change.

Tyler Perry

Authors of a Cornerstone Capital Group report, “Investing to Advance Racial Equity,” chart the roots of systemic racism and its contribution to growing wealth inequality in the United States. They recommend, in addition to higher education, access to capital, especially for home ownership which contributes to wealth-building across generations.

Leading for the Future

In “Science in America,” celebrated astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson speaks out in defense of the scientific method.

Image of: Science in America
Video Summary

Science in America

When renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson says these are his “most important words,” the world should pay attention.

Neil deGrasse Tyson Redglass Pictures
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Tyson warns about the illogic and dangers of those standing in opposition to science, especially those in power. As the world becomes increasingly reliant on technology, the need for Americans to be more “scientifically literate” so they can make informed choices only increases.

As Jonathan Chait points out in Audacity, during his time in office, former US President Barack Obama greatly increased wind and solar power in the country. An outspoken respecter of science and staunch advocate for aggressively confronting the climate crisis, Obama ably makes the business case for continuing the transition to renewable energy in “The Irreversible Momentum of Clean Energy.”

Image of: The Irreversible Momentum of Clean Energy
Article Summary

The Irreversible Momentum of Clean Energy

New US economic and political policies won’t change the course toward clean energy.

Barack Obama Science
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Obama publicly grappled with cutting-edge technological issues, including the ethical proliferation of artificial intelligence, and pushed for greater federal investments in science education. He wanted to be sure that the technological advancements of the era, as well as the windfalls, benefit all people, regardless of socioeconomic status.

Image of: Barack Obama, Neural Nets, Self-Driving Cars, and the Future of the World
Article Summary

Barack Obama, Neural Nets, Self-Driving Cars, and the Future of the World

Will machines replace your job? Barack Obama and MIT’s Joi Ito discuss the sociopolitical challenges of AI.

Joi Ito, Scott Dadich and Barack Obama Wired
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This should not be a partisan issue. It is good business and good economics to lead a technological revolution and define market trends.

Barack Obama

Read more from our library about Black leadership:

Related Summaries in getAbstract’s Library
Image of: Martin Luther King, Jr. on Leadership
Book Summary

Martin Luther King, Jr. on Leadership

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught the world about human justice and civil rights, but in order to do so, he first had to become an effective leader.

Donald T. Phillips Warner Books, Inc. Read Summary
Image of: Racial Equity in Banking Starts with Busting the Myths
Report Summary

Racial Equity in Banking Starts with Busting the Myths

The financial services industry can do a great deal to address racial inequity.

The Boston Consulting Group The Boston Consulting Group Read Summary
Image of: 12 Women Leaders That Changed the World in 2020
Article Summary

12 Women Leaders That Changed the World in 2020

Defying all odds, 12 inspiring, empathetic and determined women helped save the world in 2020.

Sarada Peri Conde Naste Read Summary
Image of: The Souls of Black Folk
Book Summary

The Souls of Black Folk

W.E.B. Du Bois’s harrowing treatise is one of the most influential works on the African-American experience ever written.

W. E. B. Du Bois Read Summary
Image of: The Last Water Fountain: The Struggle Against Systemic Racism in Classical Music
Article Summary

The Last Water Fountain: The Struggle Against Systemic Racism in Classical Music

In the world of classical music, top US orchestras often exclude Black musicians and conductors.

Mark MacNamara San Francisco Classical Voice Read Summary
Image of: Four Hundred Souls
Book Summary

Four Hundred Souls

Journalist and professor Ibram X. Kendi and historian Keisha N. Blain trace slavery’s roots and detail 400 years of discrimination against – and legal and illegal suppression of – Black Americans.

Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain One World Read Summary
Image of: On Juneteenth
Book Summary

On Juneteenth

Juneteenth is a day of celebration for Black Americans. For Harvard professor Annette Gordon-Reed, it signifies a family story of freedom.

Annette Gordon-Reed Liveright Read Summary
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