Do you remember the first time you got a taste of what it felt like to be a leader? The 'Chosen One'...the 'BMOC' or 'BMWC' (Big Man or Woman on Campus)? Mine was in kindergarten. Mrs. Trimble's class.
I waited for what felt like an eternity to be named, 'The Line Leader'. It was a title that eventually all of the children got to have for 1 week out of the school year. But for some reason, when the teacher went to call the name of the chosen line leader for the week, we all sat on pins and needles as if we would never get a turn. We knew that the longer we had to wait to be called to duty, the longer it would take for us to be a part of that elite group of kids who had the honor of having 'Line Leader' on their educational resume.
I would sit and watch as other kids got called to service. Some would become drunk with power. Bossing their classmates around, telling them, "Get in line!" Tattling to the teacher on kids who didn't respect their position. While others, abused their title and used it as an opportunity to lead their classmates into goofing around in line. Then there were those who wanted the title, but once they got it, didn't know what to do with it, and would eventually shy away from the position.
We'd sit back and watch while another child became the self appointed 2nd in command, and by the end of the week they had overthrown the 1st in command. When my day of appointment came, I felt that sense of pride and accomplishment. I had finally made it! However, by the end, I thought, "Wow, that was so uneventful!" I had the title, the skill set, and a team to lead... but I didn't have, (in the infamous words of Carl Weather's character, Apollo Creed in Rocky III) 'the eye of the tiger'. I had no passion in that position.
I've shared with you previously that I believe we all have special needs, challenges, or circumstances. However, we also all have special gifts, talents, and abilities. All of this make us uniquely ourselves and uniquely designed to be a leader, in some arena or to someone. No official leader titles or awards required.
Good leadership, in my opinion, requires that each of us must be who we are designed and wired to be, and that we use our lives in service to others. This is so much easier said than done. It takes courage, conviction, and a commitment to something much greater than yourself. For me, a personal example of this, is my parents life together. Dad is black and Mom was white. They met, dated, and married during the 1960's, when in some states, segregation was still practiced, and it was illegal for blacks and whites to marry. Though it wasn't illegal in California for them to be together, they were still subjected to hostility, ridicule, and ostracism from family members and society in general.
Given the pressures, no one would have blamed them had they decided to end their relationship. Many would have been relieved if they did. But Mom and Dad knew better. They knew themselves and what they had to offer as individuals and as a partnership together. They shared a common faith, and a common vision for their future together. They truly loved each other. When they did get married, nearly everyone said it wouldn't last. Sure they had their trials and hard times, but their love and commitment remained. As the years passed, they watched as most of their friends went through divorces. But Dad and Mom were together until Mom's death.
When it came to having children, nearly everyone said "DON'T!" The reasons given to them ranged from, "Don't put a child through the burden of a bi-racial existence." to "Most bi-racial children are born with mental and physical defects." (Yes, someone actually said that to them.)
Childless was not who my parents were born to be though. My dad wanted 4 children and my mom wanted 12. They ended up with 14. Go figure! By being themselves and choosing daily to live the life they believed that they were meant to live, in the best way they knew how, they became leaders and inspirations to others that crossed their paths. Other biracial couples looked to them for inspiration and consultation. Parents of every creed and color took comfort and courage in the knowledge that if Dad and Mom could find a way to make life work with 14 children, they too could find their way with their own children.
When thinking about my parents, there are other acts of leadership, even heroism, that come to mind. Things that at the time they were happening were taken for granted, or not fully understood. Among Dad's many gifts were his strength and endurance. I'm sure at one point in time, we have all either joked ourselves as parents, or heard from our own parents that old line, "I used to walk 20 miles backwards in the snow to get to school." For my father, that was not too far from the truth, when it came to getting to and from work, when our cars were on the fritz, and money was tight. He would walk several miles to and from work, many times, after working 24hrs straight in a rain storm, repairing phone lines; or he would walk to work right after staying up all night with my brothers, when they had an asthma attack. With as many kids as were in our home, Mom of course possessed the gifts of organization, creativity, and endurance. But the one gift felt most by the outside world, was her grace and kindness, in the face of hostility. Even though some people in our neighborhood were unkind or cruel towards us, every Christmas, Mom made sure that everyone in the neighborhood received a plate of her homemade cookies and holiday breads, regardless of their attitudes or behaviors.
Simple, sincere gestures like this changed hearts - not all hearts; but even one changed heart makes a difference. This is the kind of legacy of leadership that I want for my son. I want Chase to be a leader by fulfilling his purposes in life, and in the process, making the world a better place.