Black Leadership: The Next Generation

Black Leadership: The Next Generation

On May 15, the National Urban League (NUL) appointed Marc H. Morial its new president and CEO, succeeding 61-year-old Hugh B. Price, who announced his resignation last fall after nine years at the helm. Morial, 45, represents the new breed of African Americans who are looking to carry the torch as today’s leaders continue to gray. Morial is the sixth chief executive to head the NUL since its founding in 1910.

Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies President Eddie N. Williams is 70, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition President the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. is 61, United Negro College Fund President William H. Gray III is 62, and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, the youngest of the crop, is 54. While nonprofit institutions shaped African American progress in the past — and continue to do so today — the future of these organizations will depend on the next generation of chief executive officers to head them.

A good succession plan can make or break an organization these days, says Charles J. Hamilton Jr., chairman of the National Urban League Board of Trustees search committee and senior partner in the New York office of the international law firm Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker L.L.P.: “In prior years, leaders used to just hang on forever. There has been a significant paradigm shift in the way organizations today look at leadership for one major reason — accountability.” According to Hamilton, the board of trustees began its search for a new president and CEO in November with a list of more than 450 candidates who had been generated both internally and from recommendations provided by NUL affiliates.

An example of the paradigm shift Hamilton talks about is evident at Rainbow/PUSH. Though the organization would not say exactly when the change would take place, Jackson publicly revealed the identity of the organization’s next president last year: the Rev. James T. Meeks, 46, an Illinois state senator and pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Chicago.
The organization that served as a platform for Jackson’s mentor, however, was undergoing a difficult transition a few years ago. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which had its glory days under the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was in the news in 2001. Rumors were circulating about a generation gap between the organization’s 40-member board and Martin Luther King III, the founder’s son, who became SCLC president in 1998 at age 40. While the old guard best understood methods like protest demonstrations, the younger King spoke of revitalizing communities.

Given the tension that exists between generations, age is an important leadership consideration. The post-Civil Rights generation is passing the 40-year-old mark. Many of them received higher education credentials in the early 1980s and became professionals or worked in corporate America. Some have been active in social change movements doing great work with smaller, lesser-known organizations, and a few have raised millions of dollars. Nonetheless, there is speculation that we’ll see some familiar names when these organizations change leaders. Gray was considered the front-runner for the NUL presidency, and former