Leadership Quotes from African-American Philosophers and Poets

African American Philosophers and Poets Quotes

Leadership Quotes from African-American Philosophers & Poets

For years I’ve taught Business Ethics dismayed at how few leadership quotes from African-American philosophers and poets we used. I sought out my favorite African-American philosophers and assembled an amazing list of wisdom. (Recently, I also compiled a list of leadership quotes from women philosophers as well)

Which is your fave? Share if you like!

Leadership Quotes from African-American Philosophers & Poets


  • Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. (James Baldwin)
  • You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down. (Toni Morrison)
  • Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation.  That is an act of political warfare. (Audre Lorde)
  • You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people. You can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people. (Cornel West)
  • You got the briefcase, I got the shotgun. Its all in the game, yo. (Omar Little)
  • At present, our country needs women’s idealism and determination, perhaps more in politics than anywhere else. (Shirley Chisolm)
  • You know it’s funny when it rains it pours. They got money for wars, but can’t feed the poor. (Tupac Shakur)
  • Stay far from timid, only make moves when your heart’s in it, and live the phrase ‘sky’s the limit.’ (Notorious BIG)
  • In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute. (Thurgood Marshall)
  • We hurt people that love us… we need to love the people that hurt us. (Kendrick Lamar)
  • You have the power to change perception, to inspire and empower, and to show people how to embrace their complications, and see their flaws — that is the true beauty and strength inside all of us. (Beyonce)
  • Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today. (Malcolm X)
  • For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. (Nelson Mandela)
  • I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain. (James Baldwin)
  • Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public. (Cornel West)
  • It’s important to understand that while honor is an entitlement to respect–and shame comes when you lose that title–a person of honor cares first of all not about being respected but about being worthy of respect. (Kwame Appiah)

One last Quote

Finally one of my favorite quotes, that needs a setup. A big lawyer who defends the heads of criminal drug gangs is lecturing Omar who “rips and runs” (steals from drug dealers) about morality.  Omar offers a priceless riposte. Omar Little - a great philosopher

Levy: “You are amoral, are you not? You’re feeding off the violence and the despair of the drug trade. You’re stealing from those who themselves are stealing the lifeblood from our city. You are a parasite who leeches off…” 

Omar: “Just like you”

Levy: “. . . the culture of drugs. Excuse me? What?”

Omar: “I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase. It’s all in the Game though, right?”


I hope the reading of these brings you as much pleasure as my researching and teaching of them!  Tell me which is your favorite in the comments!  Use the social media links above or below to share this post.


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