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Who are America's next black leaders? A look at the new generation




Desiree Griffiths, 31, of Miami, holds up a sign saying
Desiree Griffiths, 31, of Miami, holds up a sign saying "Black Lives Matter", with the names of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two black men recently killed by police, during a protest Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Miami. People are protesting nationwide against recent decisions not to prosecute white police officers involved in the killing of black men. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/AP

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NAACP chairman Julian Bond died last weekend at the age of 75. Bond was one of the last remaining "old guard" champions of the civil rights movement.  

Now, a new generation of black leaders is needed, as race once again dominates the national conversation. But who those leaders are isn't exactly clear.

Take Two assembled a roundtable panel today to discuss the past, present and future of black leadership in America.

The way we were

Clarence Jones is a visiting professor at the University of San Francisco and former advisor, lawyer and speechwriter for Martin Luther King Junior. He says much of the civil rights movement’s success can be attributed to King’s nonviolent approach.

“He understood and made us all understand, that notwithstanding how fair or compelling the case for ending racial segregation was on the merits, there was no way 12 percent of the population -- negroes -- African Americans were going to impose that agenda on the 88 percent white people.”

He says media coverage of their demonstrations forced white America to confront racial prejudice head-on.

The suddenly headless movement

UCLA professor of history Brenda Stevenson says there was no heir apparent after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. In the years that followed, two familiar names rose to prominence.

“There was no one who could replace Dr. King. Today, we see some of that leadership that’s still there. The reverend Jesse Jackson is sometimes visible, as well as the reverend Al Sharpton, whose career actually started after that time period."

But, she says, "The community certainly has suffered from a loss of leaders.”

Leaders of the future

When it comes to determining the next generation of leaders, political and social commentator Jasmyne Cannick says looking to past power structures can only help so much.

“We [have] to understand that this is 2015, and we aren’t doing traditional civil rights movements anymore. What did they used to say, the revolution will not be televised, right? But, you know, the revolution might be tweeted, it might be downloaded, it might be uploaded, and we’ve stepped into a new era in terms of how we’ve organized.”

Instead, she says, communities of color should make a greater effort to support ‘less traditional-looking’ leaders.

“I would like to see African Americans be more supportive of people who are younger, female, maybe they’re gay or lesbian, but they are black and they care about black people and want to be leaders.”

The passing of a torch

When asked about the future of black leadership, Clarence Jones says he’s optimistic, and  points to the #BlackLivesMatter movement as an example of an effective modern protest.

“The Black Lives Matter movement, the best thing I can say is they’re like the canary in the coal mine--it’s like a mirror they’re holding up to America … The test of the conscience and the integrity of the American nation today depends on how they respond to the pain and the anguish of the Black Lives Matter movement."

Press the blue play button above to hear the roundtable discussion.

We want to hear from you! Join the ongoing conversation on Twitter. Just use the hashtag: #BlackLeadersNow.