A simple definition of leadership is “the art of motivating a group of people to act toward a common goal.” They are the people in the group who possess the combination of personality and character to make others want to follow. There are many who think we all possess the ability to lead. I am not a member of that camp. Leadership is innate. It cannot be taught.
Late last year we lost several leaders in the City of Roanoke who exemplified the true meaning of leadership in our community: Lessie Polk, Bittle Porterfield, Wendell Ball Sr., and Harry Clarke “Duke” Curtis. Each displayed leadership and great character. If you do not know these individuals, I recommend you google – yes google – these people and read and understand whom they were and how they made a difference throughout the region. I had the privilege of knowing all of these folks, three on a personal level, and the knowledge and experience I received from them are beyond measure. I remember when I met Mr. Porterfield a couple of years ago. He asked me “do you want to serve others or yourself?” I admit I looked very puzzled because we were at a political event and the question came out of nowhere. I responded: “I want to serve others.” He said, “Don’t talk about it. Make your actions speak with your talk.” He was not mean about it. I felt sincerity in voice and tone. Those words truly had an impact on me.
We recently featured Wendell Ball in our “At the Feet of Our Elders” column and I was able to spend some time with him for the TV segment we do every week at WFXR. He complimented me on the story and the work of the magazine. He told me, “You have a great responsibility. Make sure you serve your community well.” I have known Mr. Ball for many years, but it was truly the first time he told me what it meant to understand the importance of what is needed in our community.
I met Duke Curtis years ago when I was growing up, but I really got the chance to know him when I came back to Roanoke almost six years ago. I told him I was starting ColorsVA magazine and he encouraged me to do it. In fact, Mr. Curtis was our first advertiser in the publication, and I’m so thankful to him. He provided mentorship and business advice as I was starting, and the one thing he kept telling me “keep your integrity and serve others.”
Although I did not personally know Mrs. Polk, I understand that at 103, she was still involved in the political arena. She was an active member of the Democratic Party and provided advice to folks venturing into politics. Her friends, including our magazine editor, Melinda Payne, says although she was small in stature, she stood strong and mighty as a woman – a powerful black woman. She was a woman who served her community, and did it well.
As I reflect on these leaders who have gone on to glory, the consistent theme in their messaging was “serve others.” I have been blessed to meet great individuals who have helped to guide me to a better direction and focus in life. Let us embrace the teachings of the great works of these fantastic leaders and let’s continue the legacy of leadership and “serving others.”