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So listen, you guys know sometimes how things can be right in your face and you don’t know about it, right?  I was trying to figure out what I was going to do for the show yesterday.  I was talking to your producers and I said, what am I going to do?  And I took my dog out for a walk, and you know what street I live on up in Harlem.  It’s Fredrick Douglas Boulevard.  Then we walked across the Adam Clayton Powell cross there…

So that’s what I want to talk to you guys about on my first day here on the Tom Joyner Morning Show.  I want to talk to you about leaders.  Leadership.  Specifically black leaders.  I want to talk about who they are really these days, but more importantly I want to talk to you and ask the question about the ones that we have, are they relevant?  Do they help or hurt, not just black people, but society as a whole.  Have you ever thought about that?  Who are the black leaders?  Whoever your black leader might be.

That’s one of the biggest differences, I believe, between our leaders of today and the leaders who came out of the struggle.  The ones who came out of the struggle, they wanted us to question everything, even then.  Dr. King said you should question everything.  And the ones we have today, do they do that?  I’ll let you decide for yourself.  But could they possibly be keeping us from advancing as individuals and collectively as a people because they have a stake in our thinking remaining the same stagnant?

Might some of them be keeping us from evolving because of their idea of Dr. King’s dream hasn’t evolved past 1963.  Now I would venture to guess that if Dr. King were still alive his dream in 2013 would’ve evolved and changed into a bigger and better version of the one that he had 50 years ago.  And the strategy to realize that dream would’ve evolved change expanded over the past 50 years as well.  And I wholeheartedly believe that just as Dr. King aligned himself with black power brokers and cultural influences of the 1960s, the unions, the churches, the preachers, and as Tom schooled me a couple of weeks ago, the radio hosts, the DJ’s.


DON LEMON:  I think he would do the same thing with the black cultural influences of today.  And who do you think that is?

TOM JOYNER:  Tell me.

DON LEMON:  Any idea? That’s our young artists like Jay-Z.  Like Kanye West.

TOM JOYNER:  Good point.

DON LEMON:  Like Pharrell, like Frank Ocean.  Why am I so sure about that?  I want you to ask yourself the last time you heard a young person walking around singing a church hymn?

Because just yesterday, just yesterday, I’m walking on St. Nicholas Avenue, two separate young men were singing a French Montana rap song:  N- Ain’t worried about nothing.  You know that song?  N- Ain’t worried about nothing, right?  They actually say the word.  They’re walking with their headphones on, their screaming on St. Nicholas Avenue.

So that’s why in my work as a journalist, I constantly challenge and urge the rap, Hip-Hop and music powerbrokers to step on to the stage of positive influence and into the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream, because whether they realize it or not they are the new breed, they are the new black leaders.  They are the influences of our time.  And I don’t mean that I challenge them in a negative way.  I mean that in the best possible way, that their names can too be one day be worthy of boulevards, and avenues, and streets.

Yep, you Waka Flocka, Gucci Mane, you TI, Luda can be the next Harry Belafonte of the struggle.  Beyoncé, Rihanna, you can be the next Lena Horne or Mahalia Jackson; of course, in your own way.

Jamie Foxx, you guys saw Jamie Foxx at the March on Washington last week. He got it right.  You guys are the guys who replaced old heads.  You are the relevant ones right now.  And you know why?  Because unlike some of the black leaders who get so much criticism today, your livelihood as artists doesn’t depend on keeping people thinking the same way they did half a century ago.

Your art signifies that one of the great minds of our times were Christopher Hitchens said, “One of the beginnings of human emancipation is the ability to laugh at authority.”  The Bible even says “test everything, hold on to God.”  Thomas Jefferson said, “question with boldness even the existence of a god.”  Buddha said, “Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.”

We must question everything including our leaders and especially ourselves. So here’s my challenge for you today on my first day here, even if it’s just for today, to question what you think you know.  To take the exact opposite position that you would normally take in a conversation or discussion even if it’s about race, whatever it is.  And see where that leads you.  Become curious today instead of judgmental.  And in the process you might just change your mind.

Don Lemon Calls Out the Stars: Will the Real Leaders Please Stand Up?  was originally published on