Probably one of the most historic Black History months in history belongs to 2021. And while we have so many accomplished black trailblazers, black history still primarily remembers one figure: Martin Luther King, Jr. As I celebrate his memory and feel pride for the work he did, I find myself questioning how many others will go overlooked this month, next month and on and on? I think about Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Muhamed Ali, Josephine Baker, Daisy Bates, Elaine Brown, James Baldwin, and countless others.
American history has had a way of leaving facts out, especially blacks that refused to fall in line or “know their place.” Some things haven’t changed. Much of what we’re told leaves out how blacks were treated for challenging the status quo. Or demonizing humans for standing up for what they believed in. Some of the above names have had movies made about them, others you may not know. But they all have two things in common in my book: they were savages, and they were leaders.
Leadership comes in all shapes, sizes, beliefs, and colors. Last month I introduced my savage philosophy. I received praise and hi-fives from several clients, support from colleagues, and pushback from others. As I reflect on the varying responses, I can’t help but wonder how tough it must have been for the iconic leaders before me—the phonies, naysayers, and likely the largest of the group - those afraid of change.
Well, let’s get one thing straight - Leadership is not about fitting in. It’s about leading. And leading is not always pretty. Leading cost Dr. King and Malcolm X their lives, James Baldwin was excommunicated, Muhamed Ali was labeled, so the list goes on.
How will history remember former President Barack Obama and Madame Vice President Kamala Harris? Will they be remembered for their leadership, their road to the White House, or will they be remembered for their imperfections?
Many of us are tricked into believing that the best leaders run the most profitable companies. Lies. The best leaders actually LEAD. Leaders have endless roles to play in their day-to-day lives, from motivating to encouraging to setting the company goals to mentoring to being the hammer to offering confidence, counseling, maintaining a safe workspace, and of course, making a profit. Remember that saying heavy is the crown of the King? It’s true. The court sees the crown, but the King’s advisers know the truth. The truth is that leadership comes at a cost. And the most memorable leaders aren’t afraid to go against the grain.
That’s what every one of these historical black leaders had in common, going against the grain. They. Were. Savages. Not afraid to call it like it was, not apologize for standing up for themselves and challenge others to do better. S.A.V.A.G.E.S.
This Black History month, while we remember them, let’s actually do something to honor their memory. Instead of discouraging someone, or suggesting they don’t make waves, figure out how you can support something outside your comfort zone. I am daring you to go against the grain in your business. The cost of leadership is that you can never be too comfortable. There’s always work to be done.
One more thing, they’ll never be a shortage of people encouraging you not to lead, not to be different, to simply “fit in.” Respond with this - Imagine if Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had listened to all the naysayers. Or if Ali went off to war instead of standing his ground. We’d be living in a very different world.
As a black woman, it is my right to be SAVAGE. As an American, it is my responsibility to call out nonsense.
Happy Black History Month. And in the words of our former first lady, “be best.”