In 1997, the nation was obsessed with the Year 2000 (Y2K) software bug and the gloom or glory that would usher in the new century. The fear then was that government functions and industries, especially finance, would shut down at midnight on Jan. 1, 2000, because twentieth-century computer programs would be “confused” when “99” became “00” in the numbering sequence for years.
But nothing stopped when the clocks rolled into 2000. The jury is still out on whether the Y2K bug was over-hyped, or whether the preparation that followed the hype caused the smooth landing into 2000.
In 1997, the world community also was celebrating the arrival of a new kind of leadership, as South Africa’s first Black president, Nelson Mandela, a descendant of royal African stock, showed how grace, dignity and humility can earn respect in political and corporate arenas at home and abroad. That year, too, The Network Journal acted on its decision to begin recognizing young African-Americans with demonstrated leadership potential, thereby launching the magazine’s signature event, the “Annual 40 Under-Forty Dynamic Achievers Awards.” Ten years later, we can state with pride that we have never missed a year in honoring our community’s outstanding young men and women.
The men and women we honor this year have survived the Y2K scare and are now utilizing today’s advanced technologies to further their careers and businesses. We expect that, as emerging leaders in their respective industries and in their communities, they will follow the example of grace, dignity and humility that Africa’s royal history has provided, rather than the coarse boss-man and boss-woman behavior that passes for leadership in societies of a much shorter and often less-noble history.
Following the Mandela model of leadership is particularly important in light of the abuses of power we are seeing among corporate and political leaders. Examples abound of leadership besotted by one or both of the twin evils of arrogance and ignorance. Consider the arrogance with which political leaders orchestrated and executed the country’s involvement in unpopular wars and the ignorance of world history that caused those leaders to insist that military might be able to re-jigger the dynamics of ancient cultures. Consider, too, the arrogance and ignorance displayed by media icon Imus and those who still defend him in his on-air assault on young Black women. And the arrogance of a corporate leadership that boasts of unprecedented profits, earned at the expense of the financial well-being of average citizens.
The young people we honor must understand their responsibility as leaders and be mindful of the values and behavior they embrace and exhibit. Those of us who love, respect and admire these young stalwarts must hold them accountable to maintaining the royal character that for centuries have enabled Africans to rise above the horrors of slavery, colonialism, psychological abuse and innumerable assaults on our dignity.
Emboldened by their galloping economies, Asian leaders have claimed the twenty-first century as the “Asian Century.” As we continue to celebrate our best and brightest, TNJ hopes that these dynamic achievers, who represent the four corners of the African Diaspora, will mount a resounding challenge to Asia’s claim. And we hope that the style they embrace as they do so, will be one of grace, dignity and humility.
By Rosalind McLymont