Black politics reached its highest of heights upon the election of former president Barack Obama, however, African-American political leadership and its long storied history predates the nation’s first Black president, and hopefully continues to unfold for years to come.
Understanding this racial and social backdrop, author Gil Robertson is hoping his first children’s book, “Book of Black of Heroes: Political Leaders Past and Present,” will help inspire younger generations to carry the torch.
In an interview with theGrio, Robertson, journalist and president of the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA), says today’s Black Lives Matter generation only underlines this very critical time in modern history, particularly Black America’s role in the political arena. In this new American era led by the Trump administration and the exit of America’s first Black president, Robertson’s book comes at an interesting time in U.S. politics.
Spotlighting the plethora of African Americans who’ve dedicated their lives to public service in such leadership roles in government, Robertson believes the time couldn’t be more perfect.
“I’m so glad I did write this book now given the current circumstances,” Robertson tells theGrio. “The lack of leadership that we are faced with makes this story a must have. Never before in this nation’s history did leadership reach such a low point. So my hope is that it motivates. You only can be what you see.”
And while the young millennial generation had been used to having an African-American in the White House, Robertson is reminded that for other generations, such a concept was once unfathomable.
“I don’t know if young readers really recognize the leadership legacy that they belong to, that they’re apart of,” he says. “In my generation, the idea of there being a President [Barack] Obama was something that was so out the realm of possibilities that it was something you didn’t even think about. It was like someone had flipped the world upside down.”
Robertson says he chose to focus on the youth after witnessing the social activism of millennials amid the national crisis of police brutality and the lack of respect for young Black lives. In this time, social media has become heavily saturated with phrases and hashtags such as “Black boy joy,” “Black girl magic” and, the more popularly used, “Black Lives Matter.” These aphorisms are taking the internet by storm and restoring a sense of Black pride and, more importantly, bringing awareness to the humanity of Black people and the issues that impact them most.
“I’m so thrilled by these young activists because that’s what it takes. It takes being bold, being persistent. It takes understanding who you are and an important part of understanding who you are is understanding your history. So I’m loving the whole movement,” Robertson says.
Robertson was raised in the post-Civil Rights era and the internet wasn’t a medium for him to share his views and opinions with his peers. Admittedly, in his teenage years and young adult life he and his peers weren’t nearly as involved as today’s youth. He feels as though his generation is partly to blame for what’s going on now.
“You see, my generation are the beneficiaries of the success that has been built on the backs of our parents and grandparents,” he says. “I always tell my peers that a lot of the problems that younger Black Americans face today is because our generation dropped the ball. We didn’t carry forth with the same vigor concerning the issues that we thought we had conquered and thought we improved upon during the civil rights era.
“We were the beneficiaries of those rewards. And I’m not really sure if I feel all that confident that my generation moved forward that agenda in the most productive way, because I think that if we had we wouldn’t be in this situation that we are today. And although we started late, we’re trying to do what we can to create legacies that are beneficial,” he added.
Moving forward, Robertson thinks that we should motivate children by letting them know that their voice matters. That they’re capable of changing the world–something his new book emphasizes.
“Not only does this book put a face to a name, it also provides the readers with examples that they can emulate, follow and embody,” he says. “There are ways that everyone can display their leadership. Every space must be occupied and political leaders are the ones who create and shape policies that affect all of us and it’s important that they know they can play a role in that.”