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Leading While Black

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


Floyd Cobb

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.

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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...

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