Johnson addresses leadership crisis in black community

Keynote speaker Jeff Johnson delivers WKU’s 2013 Black History Month Address in DUC Auditorium Tuesday night. The event was put on by WKU’s Black History Celebration & Cultural Preservation Committee. 

Leadership is important to the award-winning journalist, author and motivational speaker who came to WKU this week to discuss issues in the black community.

Jeff Johnson interacted with the audience, coming off of the stage in the Downing University Center auditorium, as he got right to the point of his lecture on Tuesday night.

“What we’re going to talk about this evening is this whole notion of leadership and what leadership is,” he said. “And through the lenses of African American communities with this being Black History Month. I believe that we’re in a leadership crisis.”

Johnson believes leadership consists of three main institutions in the community — the black church, black electorate and civil and social organizations.

“There have been three fundamental institutions within the African American community that traditionally have been there to help develop leadership and those institutions in the last few decades have been dysfunctional to totally and completely inept,” he said.

He said the problem with the modern day church is that they won’t talk about poverty, education, politics or electoral engagement.

“They’ll only talk from this interesting superficial, spiritual narrative,” he said. “In many cases, it is disconnected from the very foundation of the black Christian church.”

As far as education, Johnson discussed black retention and graduation rates, and how to use resources to solve the problem with it.

“You can’t bankrupt your university in the name of a good idea,” he said. “It is important to shift existing resources rather than allocating new ones.”

Johnson also talked about the black community during the election.

“The very people that are suffering the most from the issues that are affecting the community stay home because they just elected a black president, so who needs to vote in a local election?” he said.

Johnson encouraged students to start political action committees.

“One person just has to represent to be able to share with a broader group what the issues are and what they need to do to respond to them,” he said.

While he talked about changes that need to be made, one student wished he had said more about how to make change happen.

Manhattan, N.Y. freshman Eddie Alcantara felt that Johnson delivered a strong speech, but failed to get into the nuts and bolts of real issues.

“He did a great job of providing us with a broad view of what’s going on, but it would have helped if he told us how to change the problems,” he said.

Lynne Holland, a faculty member in African American Studies, said the purpose of Johnson’s address wasn’t to answer those questions.

“He presented people with the change, but it’s up to us here at WKU to carry his message on to the next step,” she said.

Johnson also addressed this in his speech.

“I don’t live here; you do,” he said to the audience.

Johnson said most social and civil organizations exist for their own sake, as opposed to the reason they were created in the first place.

“They fail to understand that if you don’t fund your own movement, it ain’t going to happen,” he said.