Leading While Black

Reflections on the Racial Realities of Black School Leaders Through the Obama Era and Beyond

by Floyd Cobb (Author)
©2017 Textbook XXXVI, 116 Pages


What does it mean to lead while Black in America? How do Black educators lead for equity to ensure a quality academic experience for Black children when calls for equality are routinely discredited in our post-racial context? Through this book, Floyd Cobb passionately and honestly draws from his personal and professional experiences to describe his path to accepting the harsh realities of being an equity-minded Black leader in K–12 schools. Offered through the performance of autoethnography, Cobb highlights and gives voice to the often-unacknowledged vulnerability of equity-minded Black leaders who work in suburban contexts. Using the era of the Obama presidency as the backdrop for this work, Cobb illuminates the challenges and complexities of advocating for marginalized children who come from a shared racial heritage in a society that far too often are reluctant to accept such efforts. Through Leading While Black, emerging and aspiring Black leaders will be reminded that they are not alone in their struggles, but must nonetheless persist if we are to do our part in making education a better experience for our children.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Leading While Black
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Prologue
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface
  • Chapter One: Critical Moments in Postracial America
  • Chapter Two: Between Carlton Banks and Django Unchained: Racism as Humiliation
  • Chapter Three: The Miseducation of the Black Leader
  • Chapter Four: Leading While Black
  • Chapter Five: Still Fighting for Freedom: #BlackLeadershipMatters
  • Series index

← viii | ix →



Figure P.1—Leading While Black Theoretical Framework

Figure 2.1—Humiliation/Bullying Process

Figure 3.1—The White House

Figure 4.1—Leading While Black Theoretical Framework


Table 3.1—Forty-Five Elements of Mobbing

Table 4.1—Racial Battle Fatigue ← ix | x →

← x | xi →


This tribute to my late mentor, John William Buckner, is my attempt to make public many of the lessons he taught me about Black leadership. Buckner was an educational leader who for over thirty years dedicated his life to creating equitable learning environments for students in K–12 schools. High school principal, central office administrator, and Colorado state representative, Buckner was an advocate and role model for many. He was the one many of the administrators of color looked up to and revered for his ability to lead while Black.

I had the privilege of knowing Buckner personally as well as professionally, as he was my father-in-law and, more than that, a “second” father. This is not to suggest that I was lacking in parental guidance; I have two wonderful parents who worked hard and were committed to their children. These exceptional people, while not college graduates, did everything they could to ensure that my sister and I had the experience and educational foundation they lacked. My degrees—two bachelor’s, a master’s and a Ph.D.—suggest that they succeeded.

However, there were limits to their ability to guide me professionally—a fact not lost on my father, who often told me, “Son, I have taken ← xi | xii → you as far as I know how. You have exceeded my limits to guide you; from here you are going to have to figure things out on your own.” With this in mind, I sought guidance when faced with challenges outside the limits of my parents’ expertise: John Buckner was the perfect mentor for me in these situations.

He was there to keep me grounded and help me feel safe as I struggled with the intense vulnerability of trying to live a life that exceeded my parents’ greatest hopes. I appreciated his presence because he always helped me feel tethered when I was drifting into the professional sea of uncertainty that every first generation college graduate faces. To lose him far sooner than I expected affected me deeply and ultimately was the final catalyst to the writing of this book.

Now, I do not know if it’s normal to live in awe of your father-in-law, but I certainly did. I was utterly astonished at the number of things Buckner was able to accomplish in his time with us. And now more than ever I realize how lucky I was to have, in one person, a father-in-law, mentor, and professional role model. Although I rarely let on, I marveled at how much more he knew than me about everything. Even the one thing that affirmed my expertise in an area—my doctoral thesis—was based on a concept he had discovered at least ten years before me. His depth of knowledge was unmatched and I sought every opportunity to learn from him. I loved to sit and listen to stories about his experiences as a student and as an educator. It was clear that he loved to fight for equality, which meant ensuring that all children received the treatment they deserved.

Buckner and I spent hours discussing educational leadership strategy and the harsh realities of trying to do this job when you are Black. He frequently told me that no matter which role he occupied, there were some who questioned his authority and qualifications simply because he was Black. Nevertheless, Buckner was quick to remind me that our presence in the education system mattered and that we were critical to creating unimagined possibilities for students who looked like us. His philosophy, as revealed in his speech commemorating the anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, was simple: ← xii | xiii → “The faster we can include more people in us and less people in them the quicker we’ll make better decisions for all of us.”

His advocacy for kids was most obvious during his interactions with the students and community associated with his beloved high school. He was so proud of that school community; it was not only where he worked, but where he lived and chose to educate his children. For him, it was personal. He absolutely loved to brag about his students’ countless success stories. When one of his high school graduates would appear on television, Buckner would swell with fatherly pride and say, “You know she went to my school, right?,” then relate a short story about that student’s success at his school. Then we would talk about other students who went on to great success. He lived to see students succeed and would be the first to correct you if you said anything disparaging about his community.

In a sense, he was the surrogate father of that community. It’s understandable: To a generation of families and students he was the only high school principal they knew. He was a constant in an ever-changing world; someone who positively affected countless lives throughout his career.

Buckner touched everyone he met: Students, teachers, counselors, administrators, and support staff. I am proud to say that every week I meet someone who boasts about his effect on their life, whether it’s a graduate relating stories about the ways in which he went above and beyond for them or one of his former employees recalling the joy of being hired by and working for him. The stories are endless. John affected more lives than he could possibly know.


XXXVI, 116
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (June)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XXXVI, 116 pp., 4 b/w ill., 2 tables

Biographical notes

Floyd Cobb (Author)

Floyd Cobb is a central office administrator in a K–12 school district and is an adjunct professor with the University of Denver. He is a scholar-practitioner devoted to issues equity and holds a Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of Denver.


Title: Leading While Black
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154 pages