Developing African-American Leaders in Today's Schools: Gifted Leadership, the Unfamiliar Dimension in Gifted Education

By Newsom, Theresa | Black History Bulletin, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Developing African-American Leaders in Today's Schools: Gifted Leadership, the Unfamiliar Dimension in Gifted Education


Newsom, Theresa, Black History Bulletin


Establishing and nurturing the leadership qualities of an individual is the cornerstone of any successful endeavor. In the educational realm, these qualities are particularly important when educators as role models endeavor to establish these same qualities in students in a multicultural gifted and talented setting. Indeed, although the importance of nurturing leadership in children is paramount, in practice it often takes a back burner to other educational issues. Elizabeth Shaunessy and Frances A. Karnes noted that "in 1972, the federal definition of gifted and talented expanded to include leadership ability ... [and] that if the gifted students in today's schools are destined to be the leaders of tomorrow, then we must begin to consider leadership training as a major aim of programs for the gifted." (1) Although this expanded definition seems to be very progressive for 1972, today's schools do not fully utilize this aspect of leadership within their gifted and talented programs. (2) Therefore, establishing an educational program that utilizes culturally responsive leadership becomes a task of primary importance.

As a child of the 1960s, I grew up in California, not totally aware of the hardships that African Americans had been experiencing until 1968. On April 5, 1968, I sat in my mother's kitchen reading the newspaper and was mesmerized by the numerous articles that gave accounts of the life and tragic assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. I had never heard much about him until that fateful day when I pored over that newspaper, trying to take in every word and its meaning. A few days later, I remember watching his funeral procession on TV and wishing I could have been a part of this historic time when African Americans, guided by the gifted leadership of Dr. King, brought the plight of African Americans to the forefront of American consciousness. I learned more about gifted leadership over the years by reading the biographies of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and more recently, President Barack Obama. These are just a few African Americans who have used their leadership skills while taking action to improve the lives of others during difficult times in American history.

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How do we develop this type of leadership in our youth, when so many are disillusioned by a society that has labeled them as "Generation X" or the "Entitlement Generation?" As educators, we can use the classroom as a vehicle to provide instruction that allows our children to reach their fullest potential academically, emotionally, and socially. This includes giving students opportunities to learn how to lead and complete projects that give them success and build upon their leadership skills while learning about their capabilities and interests.

As a young girl, I participated in the "Brownies" (a division within the Girl Scout organization), the school band, sports, and the church choir. By developing leadership skills through these and other widely offered opportunities, starting in the primary grades, educators can build upon these attributes, first identified by Frances Karnes and Suzanne Bean, which are often already evident in young students:

* The desire to be challenged.

* The ability to solve problems creatively.

* The ability to reason critically.

* The ability to see new relationships.

* Facility of verbal expression.

* Flexibility in thought and action.

* The ability to tolerate ambiguity.

* The ability to motivate others. (3)

In 2004, Amy Bisland, Frances A. Karnes, and Yolanda Baker Cobb developed strategies designed to enhance the development of leadership qualities in children:

   Another strategy is to introduce leadership skills through the use
   of biographies. By reading about current and past leaders, students
   are able to determine common traits that contributed to the
   effectiveness of accomplished individuals so that they emulate
   those traits in their own lives. … 

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