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Article of Interest - Leadership

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Bridges4Kids LogoCommentary: Is Unity Possible?
from IELeadership Connections, Vol. 3, No. 1
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One of the challenges of leadership in any organization (or country) is how to respect and incorporate diverse viewpoints and experiences while uniting behind a common vision in order to reach common goals – and not allowing the process to be derailed.

In the continuing examination of the Brown v. Board case that IELC and others began last year, your editors have spotlighted lingering or new concerns related to that decision. In that light, the seed for this commentary was sown when your editors attended a town hall meeting in August that was part of the 2004 UNITY: Journalists of Color Convention, which ultimately drew almost 8000 African American, Asian, Latino, and Native American journalism association members, plus a noticeable Caucasian presence, albeit generally in the roles of (1) funders or (2) managers there to interview and hire. The topic for the meeting was “The New Multicultural Dynamic in Entertainment,” but the issues and themes running around and through the discussion had much broader application. Maria Hinojosa of CNN moderated a panel comprised of Henry Cho, Gary Farmer, Doug E. Fresh, Litefoot, Mo’nique, and Sandra Oh--musicians, actors, and comedians who are blazing trails in their respective milieus, yet, for the most part are not well known by mainstream America. The major discussion issue was that stereotypes of minorities are the norm in the arts in large part because of (1) who is in control of media corporations, and (2) the demeaning way the media tend to cover people of color (intentionally or not). This in turn contributes to the lack of understanding and respect we have for each other’s differences.

The panelists did not always agree with each other or feel that people of color were any less responsible for their own roles in changing (or maintaining) the status quo. All of the panelists did passionately embrace UNITY’s goal for improving coverage of people of color by dispelling stereotypes and myths and by increasing understanding of other cultures. They also applauded the organizational leadership that has managed to bring these usually disassociated voices together as one for the third Unity Convention since 1994.

One of the challenges of leadership in any organization (or country) is how to respect and incorporate diverse viewpoints and experiences while uniting behind a common vision in order to reach common goals – and not allowing the process to be derailed. One of the benefits of unity is the power and influence that combined strengths bring to the goal (e.g., the Unity convention drew public appearances of both presidential candidates, something that the single associations most likely would not have been able to accomplish).

As the election exemplifies, it seems harder and harder to unite on common issues as the focus of the media and local discussions continually shifts to our differences. Are you blue or red? Do you support or condemn the war in Iraq? Do you think No Child Left Behind should be scrapped or salvaged? Regardless of your position, how tolerant are you of opposing viewpoints? Given the tone of the exchanges, the answer to the latter question lately seems to be not at all.

Whether unity is possible depends on your definition. Defined as common ground, unity is very different from everyone thinking and doing the same thing. Part of America’s great promise has been its potential to learn the oftentimes tragic lessons of the past and continue moving toward a society where many different groups can find common ground while respecting individual rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The leader’s role in this learning process is critical – from the micro-level of families and teachers to America’s role itself on the global front – and is at the heart of a lot of today’s debates.

The proof keeps coming that leadership can make or break any situation or organization, from schools to the nation. A new report from The Wallace Foundation, How Leadership Influences Student Learning, reviews the evidence and finds that “leadership not only matters: it is second only to teaching among school-related factors in its impact on student learning.” Moreover, “leadership’s impact tends to be greatest in schools where the learning needs are most acute.” What do effective leaders do? They set direction, develop people, and make the organization work. To read the full report, go to

EducationLeadership/HowLeadershipInfluencesStudentLearning.htm.  Perhaps the unifying message here is that we all have a leadership role in raising student achievement, beginning with sharing our voices in a thoughtful way in our particular milieus.


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