Leaders and Guardians of Public Values – A Tradition of Activism


Principle #5

Continuing my quoting and commenting on Salsa, Soul and Spirit, let me start with another quote:

The enduring desire to be part of a “tribe” is a timeless phenomenon dating back to early We cultures. Many people today have a heartfelt need for community, to belong and to be valued by others. LaDonna Harris passionately observes, “Perhaps these are the times to ‘retribalize’ America. Not in the way politicians talk about— going back to family values— but by rebuilding our sense of community, mutual responsibility, and interdependency.” American Indian tribes are a viable model for seeding and sustaining a renewed sense of community.

Bordas, Juana (2012-03-26). Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age (p. 104). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

I have an understanding of what Bordas is saying here: we need a sense of belonging to the community. She has the idea that I cultures have no sense of community, or have lost their sense of community. But my perspective say it is dangerous to seek that community by going back to tribalism – which again is smaller communities and blocks that in the past have often found themselves at odds with each other. Why not try a way forward that unites the I into a greater cultural whole, fusing the old cultures all together into something new, forgetting that which is behind, and pressing forward to what is ahead. Wait a minute, we tried that too – it is what de Tocqueville saw in America’s small towns – people join in spontaneous organizations of equal leadership to get things done instead of waiting for chosen leaders and government to do it all. And it worked until government started picking up the pieces and relieving people of being responsible for their own communities, and through that the greater community that was and is America.

Bordas follows this with long sections about the concept of  the “psychology of oppression” and how the dominant culture always sets the standards. She dances around a topic without ever really stating it: can a house divided culturally ultimately stand? Teddy Roosevelt was one of the most welcoming of men, but he said to be an American required one overriding cultural imperative – to be an American, and not a hyphenated American. Within that non-hyphenated Americanism each I could keep a myriad of cultural trappings from other places and traditions, but they could not overwhelm the part about being with us, with America. Bordas stands on a different plain, one where these people keep their separateness and yet still claim the right to share in the resources of Americanism without the same commitment.

True, those already American by my definition are not always willing to be inclusive, but by my observation for many the two-way movement of the street is often blocked at both ends. People like Martin Luther King worked to remove this blockage, only to see people use the legacy of the name to reestablish parts of it from the minority end.

“The work of Martin Luther King Jr. was to interpret the moral dilemma of America to White America and to the rest of the world. Black people already understood this.” America’s moral dilemma is that our society speaks the language of equality but does not fully incorporate the founding values of justice, equality, and the common good into our institutions or social structures. The civil rights movement aimed to restore America’s public morality. King believed this would redeem the soul of America. Today, more than fifty years later, the need for moral strength and public morality remains a pressing and urgent leadership issue… The call to serve the greater good and to embrace the public values on which America was founded is the basis of leadership in communities of color. When former Denver mayor Federico Peña stood with millions of people during the “We Are American” march in 2006, which highlighted the plight of immigrants, he urged Americans to embrace our country’s higher values. “I believe a great people live by their moral and ethical principles. I believe that a great nation earns respect when it shows compassion and decency.”

Bordas, Juana (2012-03-26). Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age (pp. 113-114). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

If this leadership for the greater good is the basis of the communities of color, I would like to see it inclusive and not tribally exclusive only to themselves. Both cultures need to flourish and mingle to the benefit of both.


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