Sun | May 24, 2020

Religion & Culture | Blacks need teachers, not leaders

Published:Sunday | June 23, 2019 | 12:00 AMDr Glenville Ashby - Contributor

Leadership is defined as ‘the action of leading a group of people or an organisation’. When rigidly enforced, leadership creates a host of problems ranging from groupthink, loss of individuality, and sheepish obedience, to abuse of power.

Rooted in what I call the ‘leadership syndrome’ is the belief that those who follow are intellectually wanting and in need of guidance for their own sake. Conversely, the leader is hoisted on to a pedestal by his flock and emerges as the paragon of wisdom and the holder of the keys to liberation.

For too long the black community has relied on the leader. This dynamic is played out in political and religious circles, although it has failed to yield any meaningful results. In these scenarios, the leader, with almost a messianic aura, beckons his followers to fulfil an agenda that he has set. Gone is individual empowerment and the gift of discernment, leaving wide open the real possibility of authoritarian rule.

Not that we have not had awe-inspiring leaders. On the African continent, I think of Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, and Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso.

In the Caribbean, Marcus Garvey immediately comes to mind, and if one is moved by socialist ideals, I think no further than Grenadian Maurice Bishop who deftly blended compassion and a revolutionary fervour that was all but compelling.

Interestingly, though, every leader mentioned left a band of disillusioned, dewy-eyed followers after they met their untimely demise. The political leader has seldom survived, and, if he managed, has always veered from his original mission due to the power of circumstance. The reliance on the political leader, hence, has been fraught with disappointment, even peril.

Today, the black political leader, if one is worthy to be called such, lacks vision and dare, and has neatly become part of the political zeitgeist. The black political leader is now either Democrat or Republican in the US, and in the Caribbean, part of the notorious two-party political system that has all but blighted the region.

Moreover, the black political leader outside mainstream society usually assumes the role as the spokesperson for the community, although the people have never had a say in his ‘coronation’.

On many occasions, these so-called leaders present agendas that do not represent the will of the people. In some situations, they create discord and do more damage to the the people than imagined. For example, in the US today, unity between Africa and its diaspora is undermined by a group calling itself ADOS (American Descendants of Slaves). This group rejects overtures by African organisations and presents African Americans as a distinct people who must fight its own battles as it advocates for reparation.

The black community has also suffered at the hands of religious leadership. Arguably, religious leadership has been far more destructive to the black community.

History is witness to the knavery of black religious leaders. Philandering, subterfuge and embezzlement (of church funds) pale when compared to the mayhem caused by self-anointed godmen and their cults. These cults have mushroomed in Africa and the US. Guyana experienced a unique horror in 1978 when the People’s Temple, led by a white preacher, led a movement that was 80% black to its death.

Frankly, political and religious leaders can spare us their narcissism and self-serving rhetoric.

What the black community needs is a wellspring of educators. Yes, we are in sore need of teachers. Teachers know their calling, i.e., to impart knowledge to others without pride or prejudice.

The Caribbean, in particular, has produced many cultural scholars, but unfortunately, their work has remained outside the mainstream education system. That said, we must embrace and live by the motto: Each One, Teach One.

The teacher is the foundation of society and the teacher of culture is the purveyor of society’s lifeline. It is culture that defines and instils dignity in a beleaguered people, hence the need to develop a new cultural paradigm.

Our children must learn from the most impressive of teachers and their work. I think of Ivan Van Sertima ( They Came Before Columbus); Orlando Patterson ( Slavery and Social Death); Walter Rodney ( How Europe Underdeveloped Africa); Josef Ben Jochannan ( Africa: Mother of Western Civilization); Neely Fuller Jr ( A Compensatory Counter Racist Code); Frances Cress Welsing ( The Isis Papers), and Joy DeGruy ( Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome).

Such is the calibre of teachers that must lend us their tools of empowerment so that we can emerge as self-leaders, not followers. Our youth must embrace a new code for modern-day living, a new set of principles that must be taught to every babe and suckling. We must adopt new ways of speaking (to each other), new ways of thinking and new ways of doing.

Over time, we must abandon self-derogatory values and behaviours that regrettably pass for culture.

- Dr Glenville Ashby is the award-winning author of In Search of Truth: A Course in Spiritual Psychology, The Believers, and Anam Cara: Your Soul Friend and Bridge to Enlightenment and Creativity. Email feedback to This article was taken from Ashby’s upcoming book, Crisis of Identity - From the Slave Trade to Present Day: One Man’s Healing in Benin, Africa. Email feedback to and, or tweet @glenvilleashby.