Last night, I had the honor and privilege to attend the James A. Joseph Lecture of the Association of Black Foundation Executives. I was exhausted after 3 days of extensive pre conference activities for EPIP and ABFE and was also cursing my choice of high heeled shoes for a conference where I am on my feet all day. All of that tiredness and sore feet disappeared as soon as I walked into the room. Seeing a room full of people that I admire and look up to filled my heart. The program started with a performance by a local youth African drumming group who completely blew the audience away with their energy. One of my personal highlights was seeing Gary Cunningham, Vice President of Programs for the Northwest Area Foundation accept the institutional funder award for the African American Leadership Forum, which is an effort that I am so proud to be a part of in the Twin Cities. Gary's efforts have been tireless to connect the African American community so that we can chart out a better future for our children.
I really thought the night couldn't get any better but that is because I have never heard Ambassador James Joseph speak before. As I have heard the legend of Amb. Joseph, who founded ABFE and was the ambassador to South Africa when Nelson Mandela was president, I always wondered how an African American man in philanthropy in 1971 was able to call the question of race and leadership and insist that African American board members be elected on the Council on Foundations. He and other founding members of ABFE proposed an all Black slate at the 1971 COF meeting in Montreal. The compromises that followed at that meeting, led to COF adding black members to the board and the formation of ABFE as the first affinity group of the Council on Foundations. This is hard to do now, let alone in 1971.
Then I heard him speak and it all made sense. There is leadership and then there is Ambassador Joseph leadership. He called us to bring our best as we work for our communities and he reminded us that we sit on the shoulders of giants (with the not so subtle hint that because he and our many other ancestors have given us a much better starting point than they had, he expects much more from us). He also introduced us to the four leadership skills that he learned from Nelson Mandela that he believes are critical for today's leaders (emotional intelligence, social intelligence, moral intelligence, and spiritual intelligence).
They are too few times where we thank those that came before us or when we congratulate our peers for making the world a better place. When we get those opportunities, make sure you show up, sore feet or not.