Ricky Jones: Sadiqa Reynolds is a great leader because she remembers her history

·4 min read

The Louisville Urban League recently announced that its president and CEO Sadiqa Reynolds will step down this fall. To say her tenure has been successful would be an understatement. She was the organization's first female leader and maybe its most impactful.

Of course, most evaluations of Reynolds’ seven years at the League will center on her Herculean fund-raising because money is God in America. Money certainly matters, but what’s more important to those of us who are committed to the Black humanization project upon which the Urban League was founded in 1910 is Reynolds’ brand of leadership, which proves she remembers her history.

More: Sadiqa Reynolds is stepping down as head of the Louisville Urban League

Louisville Urban League President Sadiqa Reynolds speaks during a rally at Jefferson Square Park on Saturday, March 13, 2021.
Louisville Urban League President Sadiqa Reynolds speaks during a rally at Jefferson Square Park on Saturday, March 13, 2021.

At a time when all too many Black leaders give in to selfishness, mediocrity, anti-intellectualism, co-optation and economic essentialism, maybe Sadiqa Reynolds led the way she did because she remembers the Urban League was born in a troubled era that yielded numerous freedom-centered organizations from the Niagara Movement to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters that were populated by fighters. Maybe she remembers those warriors and the lessons they taught us.

Maybe she remembers Ida B. Wells-Barnett and her proclamation, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” Maybe that’s why Reynolds never gave in to the suppressive culture that socializes Black people to believe the only way they can achieve success is to continuously edit themselves, be fearful, passive or silent altogether. By giving in to that mentality they become participants in an ecosystem that maintains a polite racial peace but smothers any chance for true progress.

Sadiqa Reynolds never submitted to that. Maybe she didn’t sell out or remain silent to get ahead because she remembers Martin Luther King, Jr.’s warning, “There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal.”

Maybe she constantly chose to put herself at risk by speaking up for the disempowered when others cowered because she remembers Anna Julia Cooper’s beautiful words, “when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.”

Maybe Reynolds didn’t become a smiling, bootlicking lackey to wealthy individuals and companies after they gave the Urban League financial support because she remembers Shirley Chisholm proudly proclaiming she was “unbought and unbossed.” Not only did Reynolds not become a slave to the monied class, she often challenged and criticized them when they deserved it.

Sadiqa N. Reynolds is president & CEO of the Louisville Urban League.
Sadiqa N. Reynolds is president & CEO of the Louisville Urban League.

Maybe she offered unrelenting challenge to the status quo because she remembers the great James Baldwin’s clarification on his often-scathing critiques of his homeland, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” Baldwin believed it was only through such criticism born of love that America could be made better. Sadiqa Reynolds feels the same about Louisville. To be fair, she hasn’t limited her ire to conservatives. She’s been just as hard on liberals, maybe more so in certain instances when their rosy words don’t line up with their actions (which is often).

Maybe she’s that way because she remembers Martin Luther King, Jr. saying he had come to the “regrettable conclusion that the Negro's greatest stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

Some of the city’s most powerful people have scoffed and regarded Reynolds’ challenges as affronts. Some have even argued that she is an ungrateful, unreasonable troublemaker. Thankfully, others have chosen to listen and have been made better because of their willingness to be reflective and learn.

Sadiqa Reynolds plans to continue residing in Louisville for the time being. Even she doesn’t seem to be sure how long that will last. What we do know is she will no longer occupy the same critical local leadership space she did as Urban League president. She gets to do something broader, probably more personally peaceful, and without the local inhibitors. She will be in Louisville, but not of Louisville in the same way – and that’s all right. She’s put in her time.

To be sure, many will hate seeing her step away from the helm of the Urban League and realistically, the organization will be weaker without her. Others will be ecstatic to see her go. For them, her exit will mark one less obstacle to Louisville returning to conducting its social, political and racial business as it always has without impediment.

At the end of the day, Sadiqa Reynolds was a great leader of the Urban League because she remembers a lot of lessons the strongest of our people have given the world. And love her or hate her, Louisville should remember Sadiqa Reynolds. Job well done, Sister!

Ricky Jones.
March 14, 2019
Ricky Jones. March 14, 2019

Dr. Ricky L. Jones is professor and chair of the Pan-African Studies department at the University of Louisville. His column appears bi-weekly in the Courier-Journal. Visit him at rickyljones.com.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Sadiqa Reynolds is a great leader because she remembers her history