The greatest need in a time of crisis is leadership. And it is the most rare commodity in our community. The most amazing thing that we often celebrate in people is their leadership style, unafraid to rock the boat and are very clear about their positions. They do not waver, sit on the fence or wait on someone to take a position before they come out hiding behind that position.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve found myself speaking to very diverse audiences that form the essence of this region, from the American Jewish Committee (AJC) leadership awards dinner to the Historic Ebenezer Leadership Breakfast, among other groups.
All of these organizations with broad missions have one thing in common: they are concerned about the state of leadership in our community, especially those who say they have the God-given right to serve us at the highest levels of our political system. Or in simple terms, those who claim a birthright to political leadership without any requisite leadership skills, but will get in those positions anyway because of name recognition, not proven leadership.
And so it makes me wonder sometimes if we have lowered the standards so much that political office has only become a linchpin for the greater good of those who seek it, instead of the public good of the electorate.
Because often we have mistaken leadership for who is the most popular or who has the most connections. We have sometimes offered ourselves like a lambs for the slaughter on the alter of double-talking politicians and/or individuals who will say anything to get into office.
They will do that to get votes not because it is a conviction but because it is the age- old strategy of luring voters to their side by what they think they want to hear.
We have seen the leadership examples of those already in office. We have seen how some have been afraid to make tough decisions when confronted with the most dire circumstances.
We have seen how some of our politicians act like Nicodimus in the middle of the night meeting to show their support for one cause and then deny the next day in a press conference that they were not behind that cause in the first place.
We have seen the leadership example of some who only seek to exploit the emotions of the economically oppressed just to get elected, but won’t do anything to help the 99 percent get out of the economic doldrums.
Leadership leads by example. For example, some of these politicians who talk so much and so loud of what should be done for our children do not offer one scholarship (that they pay for) in their name to help children of the underserved get an empowering education.
Yet, they tell us they are in office to secure the future for the children of this community. Beyond their designation of being public officials, what is their commitment? They are not working for free. They are bankrolled by taxpayers.
As a community we have to demand better of those who seek to negotiate on our behalf when public dollars are at stake.
We have to demand of those who are looking to be tagged “Detroit official” to understand what that means, and to exhibit attributes that fit the title.
In essence, we need a critical mass that would not be fooled by individuals who already understand the DNA of voters and know what can lure them to the polls. We need a critical mass that would require of elected officials something more than an ice cream social to get them to the polls.
We have to be better examples of the leadership that preceded our current elected officials.
The children in this community want a better future and to secure that future would mean those currently in office either must lead or get out of the way.
I had the pleasure this year to take part in the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy Reading & Rhythm on the Riverfront, a summer reading program for kids.
When it was my turn to read to the more than 60 kids (age three and older) who gathered on the Riverfront. I asked them to raise their hands and tell me what they want to be in the future.
Some wanted to be lawyers, doctors, firefighters, journalists, policemen and policewomen.
As I looked into their innocent, gentle and excited eyes when expressing their ambitions, it was clear to me that these children — our future — deserve better than the leadership currently being provided in our community. The future of these children who met on the Riverfront to read, coming from all parts of this city, and others like them should not be mortgaged by dubious self-serving leaders routinely sending mixed signals instead of being men and women of conviction.
Bankole Thompson is editor of the Michigan Chronicle and the author of a six-part book series on the Obama presidency. His book “Obama and Black Loyalty,” published in 2010, follows his recent book, “Obama and Christian Loyalty” with a foreward by Bob Weiner, former White House spokesman. His forthcoming books in 2012 are “Obama and Jewish Loyalty” and “Obama and Business Loyalty.” Thompson is a political news analyst at WDET-101.9FM (NPR affiliate) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” Sunday evening roundtable on WLIB-1190AM New York and simulcast in New Jersey and Connecticut.