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J.Q. Adams speaks about black leadership in the 21st century

January 21, 2011

To coincide with the observance Martin Luther King Jr. Day, J.Q. Adams, professor of educational and interdisciplinary studies at Western Illinois University, spoke to students and faculty in the Highlander Room about African-American leadership in the 21st century on Tuesday, Jan. 18.

Adams recently received the WIU provost’s Excellence in Multicultural Teaching Award, and the Distinguished Alumni Leadership in Education Award from Grand Valley State College.

Although the lecture focused on black leadership in the 21st century, Adams prefaced the discussion with an abridged history of black leadership in the 18th century all the way up to present day.

“I’m interested in who shapes the ideologies of our nation,” said Adams. “It’s important to understand that what you do has an impact on all who bear your skin color.”

As Adam’s speech progressed toward the modern day, he encouraged the audience to pay attention to several senior leaders of our time including, reverend C.T. Vivian, who was a friend of Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement, and author/political activist, Maulana Karenga.

“I learned from him [Karenga] the importance of being centered. You have to know yourself first,” said Adams. “Once you understand your culture, venture out and learn about the experiences of others.”

Not only did Adams share lessons he learned from influential black leaders, but he also offered a look into his personal life as he shared a story from his childhood about when his great aunt took him to Gary, Ind., where he was one of the first black students to integrate his elementary school.

“I remember being spat on,” said Adams. “I thought, what kind of hell is she bringing us to? However, it’s interesting to see how oppressed people continue to produce leaders even in such rough times.”

While Adams can personally attest to the racial intolerance of years past, he has also seen how attitudes toward race relations have made strides among Generation X; most noticeably, the reaction to the Presidential election of Barack Obama.

“Generation X is much more open to change. They’re the ones who helped elect Obama,” said Adams. “For 18-34 year olds, race is not as important to them. I have hope that we can transcend race even more; not get rid of it, but accept it.”


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