Today’s world needs leaders with integrity Dr. Raphael Warnock told participants in the annual Leadership Conference Celebrating African American History Month at Troy University on Friday.
Warnock, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, addressed Friday night’s opening session of the conference, which is sponsored annually by the University and the City of Troy to promote dialogue that fosters multicultural collaboration and equip diverse leaders with tools to better serve their organizations and communities.
“We need leaders who will be agents of equality in this world,” Warnock said. “We also need leaders who embrace integrity. Integrity is when you say what you mean and you mean what you say. Integrity is standing on behalf of what is right just because it is right. Integrity is when you give yourself over to something larger than yourself. God knows, at a time like this, we need leaders who embody integrity — not perfect leaders, but leaders that, even when they fall and make a mistake, don’t mind admitting it.”
Warnock quoted the 40th chapter of Isaiah in laying out what he called the prophet’s “inspiring image of the ideal of leadership.”
“What an amazing way he holds before us the ideal of leadership – a voice crying in the wilderness,” Warnock said. “What a grand and lofty vision of human possibility. Leaders speak up in places where a voice needs to be heard. Leaders do not ask, ‘Has it been done that way before?’ Leaders pave a new way. They create highways in the desert. We have to be partners with God in order to create the type of world we want to create.”
While much has changed because of leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Warnock said there is still much work to be done.
“Leaders in this brave new world are called to fight for equality,” he said. “We live in a time where the high sit very high and the low sit very low. The gap between ‘the haves’ and the ‘have nots’ in our great country has gotten wider and wider across both Republican and Democratic administrations.”
Another area of concern for the country is found in the criminal justice system. Warnock said much of the blame for inequities within the system is the result on the nation’s “war on drugs.”
“The ‘Land of the Free’ is the incarceration capitol of the world,” he said. “We are 5 percent of the world, but we warehouse 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. No other nation even comes close. The criminal justice system is a function of race and class. We live in a time when it is better to be wealthy and guilty than it is to be poor and innocent.”
True leaders don’t mind standing “in the valleys,” Warnock said, encouraging the students in the audience to help make a difference for others.
“Leaders don’t mind walking among the lowest of the low, and they don’t mind speaking truth in power to the highest of the high,” he said. “Whatever platform you have to make a difference in the world, you should use it. Apply yourself, get your education and then when you leave here, go down into the valley and help someone.”
Friday’s night session also featured special musical performances from Montgomery’s Johnnie Carr Middle School Choraliers.
The Leadership Conference continues on Saturday with plenary sessions for both adults and students and a closing session featuring a keynote address by Dr. Quinton Ross, president of Alabama State University.