Open auditions for `Next Black Leader'

May 04, 2007|By Clarence Page | Clarence Page,Chicago Tribune

NEW YORK -- Could America's next black leader be on YouTube today? The Rev. Paul Scott, a black and very unorthodox Baptist minister from Durham, N.C., has launched an offbeat Internet search to find out.

You can find Mr. Scott, who also calls himself "The Truth Minista," with an emphasis on "the truth," in a video headlined "Next Black Leader" on YouTube, the popular video-sharing Web site.

That headline, with its echoes of the TV show America's Next Top Model, captures a widely known but under-acknowledged truth: Since the days of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, mainstream news media have enjoyed the convenience of a single "Black Moses" to speak as a proxy for millions of black Americans.

Since the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Americans don't seem to know who the black leaders are until the media tell them. Mr. Scott, using the democratizing influences of the Internet, offers an opportunity for the public to get in on the selection process.

Is he serious?

Well, why not choose America's next black leader the same way that callers and text-messagers help choose winners on American Idol? Imagine the judges. Simon Cowell growling in his British accent, "That was oh-full!" Paula Abdul chirping, "I want to judge you by the content of your character, not the color of your skin." Or Randy Jackson shouting, "You're going to the Promised Land, dawg!"

In fact, the idea was explored in African-American Idol: The Search for a New Black Leader, a short, satirical independent 2003 movie you can find at

In that spirit, Mr. Scott invites you to step up and post your best video pitch on YouTube "if you feel that you are sharper than [the Rev. Al] Sharpton, bring more action than [the Rev. Jesse L.] Jackson and create more drama than [Illinois Sen. Barack] Obama."

Is he serious?

As serious as the black American condition, he says. Mr. Scott was motivated by the many complaints he has heard from African-Americans about the declining relevance of national black figures in addressing the everyday struggles of black Americans left behind by the civil rights revolution.

Alas, Mr. Scott's invitation has generated little response so far. After almost two months, only four response videos were posted early this week. They included a young woman who was not volunteering for the job but nevertheless wanted everyone to know what sort of black leader she thought should have the job.

When I reached Mr. Scott by telephone at Messianic Afrikan Nation headquarters in Durham, he expressed some disappointment but no regrets. "If nobody wants the job of black leader," he said, "I win it by default!"

Yes, it's a tough job, but he's willing to do it.

I don't know whether Mr. Scott will reach his goal of national Afro pre-eminence, but if self-promotion is any measure, he's on his way. So far he has appeared on Fox News Channel's Hannity & Colmes and numerous other TV and radio programs. When I first interviewed Mr. Scott a few years ago, he was rallying public outrage against Phat Boy Malt Liquor and rap star Nelly's Pimp Juice.

Mr. Scott's frustration, shared by many of us, is with the many disconnected and undereducated young people the civil rights revolution left behind. Turning 40 this year, which almost makes him a senior citizen to the hip-hop generation, Mr. Scott strives to lure young folks away from the degrading images and self-destructive "gangster" behavior glorified by many rap stars, music and videos.

He can't do it alone. Against that massive cultural tide, the few big-name leaders are nothing without a lot of local leaders, the unsung heroes who show up in the everyday lives of our nation's children.

Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun. His e-mail is

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