A Recollection of ABC Leaders2000Plus
John H. Morris, Jr.
For them, the year started on the Titanic. They were consigned to steerage. They started knowing that there were not enough life boats in the event of a catastrophe, knowing that there were icebergs in the path of the boat. Unlike everyone else on the vessel, they were not so arrogant as to believe that the ship was unsinkable. They were sobered by the realization that a catastrophe would leave most of the women and children in first class alive while most of the people in steerage will die.
They know the captain to be a fool who will pilot the ship too fast to avoid icebergs in order to get to New York in record time. They, however, have the vision to foresee that the ship will hit an iceberg on the second night of the journey. From steerage, they ironically possess all that is needed to save the people they care about together with the all too arrogant folks in first class – who have no reason to listen to them. What they lack is the agency to translate their unique insight into a program of action. What then do they do?
The above scenario, a metaphor for Black leadership in America, greeted each new class of Leaders2000Plus from 1999 through the last class in 2006-2007. From 1997 until the program ended in 2007, 10 classes of young men and women, all African American, made their way through the program administered by Associated Black Charities.
In all, more than 150 people shared a one-year commitment to explore resolving the many dilemmas of Black leadership. During the course of that year, they struggled to capture a vision of Black economic prosperity, framed what success for our children requires, probed the seeming contradictions of public safety and community development, and took on the limitations inherent in any conversation about the soaring aspirations of Black folk in a world of limited expectations for us.
More than 4 years before a then unknown Black state senator from Chicago burst on the scene at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and 8 years before he would become the first Black President of the United States, a Leaders2000Plus class retreat developed a demographic model for electing the first Black Governor of Maryland.
This special program remains significant today, 8 years since it concluded. Its alumni constitute a leadership pool waiting to be tapped. They have already explored the pressing issue of our day – how to build Baltimore City as the site of a thriving Black community where poverty is unimaginable and the abuse of its citizens by any authority is simply too unthinkable to be sustained.