Debating Black Leadership: Lawyer Makes Case for Change

Article excerpt

Brian Jones wishes "people would be thinkers," less accepting of the prevailing political rhetoric, most especially in the black community. New ideas, new agendas, new solutions are needed for old problems.

At 27, Mr. Jones, an antitrust lawyer, heads the Center for New Black Leadership, a conservative think tank and advocacy group.

The center, which had its official kickoff at the Heritage Foundation this month, is described as a "nonpartisan organization dedicated to reviving and encouraging traditionally effective solutions to the social and economic problems confronting the African-American community" - namely those of individual initiative and personal responsibility.

Simply put, Mr. Jones says "self-reliance," not "centralized government," is the solution to the problems plaguing the black community.

He argues that the current cast of black leaders, made up of civil rights stalwarts, is "dated and ineffective" and "out-of-touch" with the majority of blacks. Further, he suggests that the country, indeed the black community, has moved into a "post-civil-rights era" and questions whether race-based political and social strategies are relevant.

The energetic, fast-talking Mr. Jones is joined at the center by such card-carrying black conservatives as university professors Shelby Steele and Glenn C. Loury, businessman Peter Bell and consultant Phyllis Berry Myers. Their supporters include writer and GOP activist Arianna Huffington, who serves as a board member.

Mr. Jones, a self-described "neo-Washingtonian," craves a revival of debates among black leaders reminiscent of the turn-of-the-century debates between W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington. Washington, the pragmatic educator and co-founder of the Tuskegee Institute, advocated industrial education and self-reliance to achieve economic parity before tackling social equality. DuBois, the radical intellectual who co-founded the NAACP, advocated advanced education and demanded immediate and full racial and civic equality.

"That kind of debate can only be a healthy thing, and it's the only way to find the truth," Mr. Jones says.

The center, Mr. Jones says, is seeking to increase its visibility among black church, college and community leaders. Center officials have established a speakers bureau and are convening leadership conferences. …