Democratic strategist and author Donna Brazile called world-renowned scholar and activist Dr. Ronald Walters a genius, during a recent forum celebrating his legacy at the Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage in Washington, D.C.
In July 1958, when he was just 20 years-old and the president of the youth chapter of the NAACP in Wichita, Kan., Dr. Walters organized one of the ﬁrst lunch counter sit-ins in
the country to protest segregation. According to The New York Times, he was instrumental in the establishment of the Congressional Black Caucus in the early 1970s and served as “the deputy campaign manager and debate adviser for the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson’s presidential bid in 1984.” Dr. Walters penned more than a dozen books on racial politics and Black Power and directed the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland until 2009. He died from cancer in 2010.
“[Ron Walters] was smart. He was strategic. He understood politics.
He understood power and he understood Black leadership,” Brazile said.
Brazile, author of the book “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That
Put Donald Trump in the White House,” talked about working with Dr. Walters, when she was a “young, aggressive” community organizer trying to change politics from the inside out.
“Ron Walters provided us with a historical reference to what we were doing and trying to accomplish,” Brazile said. “Ron provided a scholarly roadmap. He made you understand that it was not just about the moment that we were living in, but the historical journey that we had been on for over 200 years. He talked about political power, not just in the abstract…he taught us to use our power and leverage it.”
The forum included a panel discussion featuring Dr. Raymond Winbush, a research professor and director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University; “The Black Eagle” Joe Madison, a radio talk show host on Sirius; and Dr. Robert Smith, the author of the book, “Ronald W. Walters and the Fight for Black Power, 1969-2010.”
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., the president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association
(NNPA), moderated the discussion.
The NNPA is a trade group that represents more than 200 Black-owned media companies in the United States; that reach more than 20 million readers, combined, in print and online, every week.
Dr. Elsie L. Scott, the founding director of the Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center at Howard University thanked the NNPA for partnering with the Walters Center to co-sponsor the event.
Dr. Scott noted that Dr. Walters wrote a weekly column for the Black Press.
“He loved the Black Press, he believed in the Black Press, and he wanted to make sure that the Black Press survived,” Scott said.
Dr. Winbush met Dr. Walters through his strong support of reparations for slavery.
“Ron spoke the truth, as he saw it, and he didn’t care who heard it,” Dr. Winbush said.
Madison said that Dr. Walters had the rare ability to combine scholarship and activism.
“Scholars have got to become activists and Ron was an activist,” Madison said.
And when Dr. Walters needed to get a message out to the Black community and the world, he went to the Black Press, Madison said, because as a scholar and activist, he recognized the value and credibility of Black-owned media.
“Ron always went to the Black media, ﬁrst,” Madison said. “Not CNN, not to ABC, but to the Black media, ﬁrst.”
Smith, who collaborated with Dr. Walters on the book titled “African American Leadership,” said that as a Black intellectual and media commentator, Dr. Walters prioritized the Black Press.
“He saw the [Black Press] as a means to build Black Power,” Smith said. “You want to talk to Black people, you talk to them through their media.”
Dr. Chavis noted that the movements for Black Power and Black political leadership have evolved and that Dr. Walters’ writings gave recognition to the diversity within the Black community, but also called for unity.
“He was one of the few political scientists that talked about the economics of Black Power,” Dr. Chavis said.
A recent Nielsen study showed that Blacks have an annual buying power of more than $1.1 trillion, which continues to rise; however, this growing spending power has not translated to increased economic prosperity or wealth in the Black community.
Brazile said that the election of Donald Trump has changed political norms in the U.S. and it’s critical that Blacks are a part of the next phase of leadership.
“If Ron Walters were here, today, he would tell you that Black Power is not just about a single individual or one moment in time,” Brazile said. “It’s about a continuum, a long journey.”
When it comes to that journey, in today’s current political environment, if Ron Walters were alive today, he would be working on a plan, intellectually, “to get us out of the mess that we’re in now,” explained Patricia “Pat” Walters, Dr. Walters’ wife.
“Ron was essentially what I would call a ‘pragmatic, Black nationalist,’” Pat Walters said. “That means he wouldn’t have taken off and gone to another country. He would be encouraging Black folks to mobilize, to organize, to get out the vote and to talk with the millennials,” about the 2018 midterm elections.
Pat Walters continued: “This is a very dangerous era that we are exposed to at this point in our lives—Black folks and White folks. We need to deal with that reality and I think Ron would be at the forefront of that.”