on the ground, independent of my work as a professor, or outside of media appearances, is why I call myself an activist scholar. The work I do with Books Through Bars, a grassroots organization that's trying to respond to the education crisis in prison is why I call myself an activist. For 10 years I've been working with the ACLU's drug law policy reform. There ain't no cameras there when we do that work. I don't think activism is enough, organizing is important. When Shequonda Cotton, a 14-year-old, was sentenced to seven years in a Texas juvenile facility after pushing a hall monitor, I organized a campaign to get her out. We began by pushing an Internet letter writing campaign and saw that through until she was released. When 17-year old Genarlow Wilson was convicted of raping his white girlfriend in Georgia we worked to get that overturned and I helped to get him into Morehouse where he's currently a student. In both cases it was about developing strategy and galvanizing people, but I tried to leverage what little bit of access or recognizability I have to get justice for those teenagers. My visibility isn't a strategy, but I use it where it helps to do the work I think matters.
EBONY.COM: Do you consider yourself a leader? What do you think it will take to transition out of mid 20th century and Civil Rights leadership?
I do consider myself a leader but I worry that we're still holding onto an antiquated notion of what leadership is and what it should look like. We've developed an idea that two or three Christ like figures are going to come and move a community forward. I don't think that organizations have ever progressed based on that. There have always been a wide range of people doing work. We may need charisma in some instances but we also need people on the ground doing the work. I think the more we celebrate individual and messianic leadership the less people will be inclined to participate in movements. I consider myself a leader but I'm just or more comfortable joining or working with an organization than I am being the focus of one. I think we need to re-imagine leadership that is more democratic, more horizontal than vertical. We need to have more women present in leadership, more gay and lesbians in leadership. Leadership can no longer only come from the middle class, but also from the working poor and poor. Most importantly, I think it's dangerous to look for a single savior. Our generation needs to spotlight people who actually make these organizations work as opposed to a slick talker or an attractive figure. The next wave of leadership also has to be inter-generational. As we're emerging as new leaders we need to be in dialogue with future leaders as well as previous ones. When it comes to the Civil Rights generation, we need an exit strategy for old leadership so that organizations don't die with single individuals.
EBONY.COM: You self-identify as a feminist ally. What does that mean in your personal and professional life?
To take feminism seriously we have to think about having women in the conversation not just by proxy but as leaders to represent themselves and to lead men. We also have to include gender in our analysis and not just race and class. So when we're talking about health issues or economic issues, we're not just talking about race, because there's no one who has a race who doesn't also have a gender. So we have to think about how gender, and in particular women's issues, impact whatever social thing we're talking about. We also have to close the gap between our politics and our practice. Being a feminist or a feminist ally theoretically is very different from being one in your household or in your relationships, that's the real challenge. As leaders our responsibility is to constantly work on closing the gap between what we say and what we do. I'm not signifying, I'm talking about me in particular. These issues around relationships and women and to practice the feminist principles I believe, is a constant struggle. It's important to understand and to communicate that this is a process, not so I protect myself from appearing hypocritical but because it's truly a struggle. But I think it's important to be transparent about this struggle. People are entitled to privacy about their lives. We compromise some of that privacy when we take public positions of moral authority, but I don't think it's navel gazing, I find value in being transparent about struggling around these issues, that's part of the personal and political work and it's facilitated by a certain amount of disclosure.
EBONY.COM: You became a single father when you were working on your dissertation.