A Good Home

Which Do You Prefer?

Someone once asked me this question.

“Whose approach do you prefer: Martin Luther King Jr or Malcolm X?”

“Both”, I replied. “And Rosa Parks. And the Black Panthers.”

My friend stared at me, speechless. Talk about asking a simple question and getting a difficult answer!


When you’ve worked in countries like South Africa and led organizational/societal change at home — or maybe if you’ve just lived long enough — you learn that change rarely comes about because of a single leader or strategy. To make substantive change, enduring change, it takes a variety of approaches.

We need the moderates — the diplomats who can inspire courageous but peaceful protest; the people who can argue with the powerful without losing control.

We need the academics and media — people who study the issues without bias, but can raise the alarm when our  freedom, safety, democracy and human rights are threatened. 

We need the people who will be uncompromising in demands and language. They’re not comfortable company at the dinner table, but they’re essential.

We need the everyday heroes who will stay put in their seat on the bus, refusing to obey an unjust law.

And you need the people who, like a sword hanging over our heads, will threaten our peaceful, comfortable existence.

I salute Nelson Mandela, a hero for our times.  And yet, I know that a much less popular person, his former wife, Winnie Mandela, also played a vital role in bringing about revolution. 

Imprisoned for it, tortured by prison guards, then, later, hated by many for her worst actions as a guerrilla leader. But how can anyone deny the impact of her war against the apartheid government? 

How can anyone deny the role of the freedom fighters who were killed, imprisoned or exiled from their homeland?  The journalists who were imprisoned or exiled for criticising the apartheid government?

On a humbler level, I’ve experienced a thing or two.  As a founder and former president of a prominent Black Canadian organization, I saw people so set in their preferred approach to change, that they made enemies of those who fight the same battle in different ways.

Guilty, your honour.  As an impatient young leader, I made enemies unnecessarily. Missed important opportunities.

Later, I realized: if we’re all fighting for the same outcome, why on earth are we not working together? Why dismiss and belittle those who disagree with you on strategy but share the same goals?

Age and learning about how societies and organizations change have helped me to see the bigger picture. And this I know today:

It takes several kinds to bring about change, so let us learn to value them. And where possible, let us work with them, not against them.

46 thoughts on “Which Do You Prefer?”

  1. Indeed. I totally agree dear Cynthia. That is entirely what the spirit of ongoing Reconciliation is all about…

    1. Of course, former TRC commissioner and dear friend Marie. So good to hear from you. I miss our conversations about these matters. Just yesterday I was thinking of you and me, that first morning with the group of journalists in S. Africa. What a remarkable time that was! I still can’t believe what we all achieved together.

  2. I appreciate your perspective Cynthia and wholeheartedly agree. In fact, I would go a step further and suggest we all need to work together and not dismiss and belittle each other regardless of end goals. Ultimately, we’re all one human family trying to live on this planet.

  3. I learn here you are a a founder and former president of a t Black Canadian organization, I raise my hat , Cynthia .
    You are right various approaches may lead all of population to the same goal.
    Love ❤

  4. I think you’re right. We need people who push others farther than they want to go and irritate. And we need people who want to move slower and more diplomatically. Together, they often forge a way that works.

  5. I must agree with you! I see that even need for both even in the US Democratic Party right now. May compromise and cool heads prevail. Good post! And you…an impatient young leader? Yes, I could see that! You are still a fighter.

  6. A thought provoking post Cynthia. I would certainly value your input around a discussion table.

  7. And don’t forget about the other leaders who brought about a peaceful change in South Africa. Think of Buthelezi and of F W De Klerk.

    1. Yes. We tend to be attracted by similarities and repelled by differences – including differences of opinion. If only we realized that there’s potential in those differences.

  8. We must be brave, as was Winnie Mandala. I still have my copy of her memoir, Part of My Soul, pages yellowing, that I bought in 1984. I won’t ever be parting with ‘part of her soul’.

    1. Thanks, Diane. It says something that you have held on to that book. Many of us prefer to side with the “respectable” leaders of change, forgetting that change is rarely neat and tidy.

  9. Well said, Cynthia. This is something that needs to be said again and again until we are all listening and believing and DOING SOMETHING to improve the lives of all our fellow human beings.

  10. Such a sensible viewpoint and absolutely true. We must be accepting and thankful for all approaches when it comes to making change.

  11. You’re right. I was in my 20s in the 60s an it took all their voices, including, Ali to bring about change. In Ta Nehisi Coates, a son of a Blk Panther, I hear the voices of all of them. A strong conviction that there must be change and an accounting for the wrongs fostered on POC, especially former slave.

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