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Harold Ford Jr. Urges Students to Seize the Moment and Become Fearless Leaders


(Sept. 28, 2009) -- Harold Ford Jr. recalled being a young congressional candidate in his hometown of Memphis, Tenn., with the only groups willing to listen to his plans being kindergarteners.

But after a grandparent of a student called a local radio show to tell the world about the way Ford spoke, the aspiring politician’s entire campaign took an upward swing.

It is the kind of moment that Ford, who went on to serve 10 years in Congress, urged students during the Conversations on Leadership lecture in the Bank of America Auditorium to ready themselves for.

“Anytime in life, there’s going to be that turning point,” he said. “For me, that was my turning point… And the great lesson about leadership that I learned from my dad was very simple: Every opportunity you have to show that you are a leader, do it… If you believe it’s right and you believe it’s the right thing to do, be a leader and it will pay off in the long run.”

Ford, now chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, spoke to a capacity audience as part of the Leadership Center at Morehouse College’s Bank of American Lecture Series, which has featured speakers such as talk show host Tavis Smiley, Princeton professor Cornel West and CARE CEO Helene Gayle.

“Indeed, they have demonstrated themselves to be Renaissance women and Renaissance men with social conscience and global perspective,” said President Robert M. Franklin Jr. ’75. “That certainly is the case for today’s speaker, Chairman Ford, one who I have admired a great deal over the years. He’s an extraordinary leader, leader of dynamism, a leader committed to integrity and excellence.”

Ford talked about the many lessons in leadership he learned from his father, Harold Ford Sr., who in 1975 became the first African American to represent Tennessee in the U.S. Congress. They are many of the same words of advice he had for Morehouse students.

“Do not be afraid to rally around an idea or set of ideas and not be afraid to fail,” he said. “You have to be bold and willing to embark and put yourself out there in order to have a chance to do well. And three, as my dad always told me, in every situation you’re in, always lead. That doesn’t mean to be bossy and be arrogant, but to be a leader. Sometimes being a leader means helping a person who’s in charge to do better.”

Ford served in Congress from 1997 until 2006 when he decided to run for the U.S. Senate. He lost a contentious, but close, race.

“I think I could have run a smarter campaign,” Ford said. “But what really drives me is I love public service and I can’t give that up. Whether it’s helping President Obama in some capacity or even running from a different state, I want to run again. I want to be back in politics at a level where I can hopefully influence the making of policy and make life better for the next generation of freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors here at Morehouse College.”

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