The agenda for last month's meeting of the New Leaders was packed, and by day's end the fledgling--and no-nonsense--group had accomplished a lot.
Members honed their mission statement, settled on plans for the future, started a calendar of the year's key events, identified ways to ensure the organization's long-term viability and tightened rules for membership (laggards need not apply).
That session, held at the Junior Achievement House on Larchmont Boulevard in Los Angeles, said much about the New Leaders, an organization of about 120 dues-paying, young, primarily African American professionals with an aim to match the name.
"We wanted a way for the next generation of movers and shakers to come together, to share ideas and strategies and to help empower our community," said Kevin Ross, a deputy Los Angeles County district attorney who founded the group with financier John Bryant.
Officially launched in mid-1995, the organization's roots actually stretch back a generation to the mid-1980s group Young Black Professionals, which emerged during then-Mayor Tom Bradley's quest to become California's first African American governor.
With its counterparts around the nation, that effort marked the development of a new, post-civil rights movement generation of well-educated and successful blacks who wanted a voice in politics.
The Los Angeles organization eventually faded away, but Bryant, who has a framed letter from Bradley written during the group's inception, said Young Black Professionals was the inspiration for the new group, known among its members as TNL.
"We created TNL in the image of Young Black Professionals. It's definitely an outgrowth of that," Bryant said.
While its predecessor was informally organized, the New Leaders is meticulously structured and its agenda is ambitious.
In the year and half since the New Leaders drew more than 100 participants to its initial meeting at Georgia restaurant on Melrose Avenue, it has held a business development seminar, begun a youth empowerment committee that is making plans for a mentoring program at Horace Mann Middle School, and held voter registration and holiday book and toy drives.
Its first field trip for members was a tour of the Museum of Tolerance, the internationally memorial to the Holocaust victims, followed by a discussion of current black-Jewish relations. The group's one-year anniversary celebration in July featured attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. as keynote speaker.
The New Leaders also initiated a "leadership round table series" with speakers that included Bradley, Los Angeles Police Chief Willie L. Williams, City Atty. James K. Hahn, banker Richard Proudfit and Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, which encourages young college graduates from all fields to work in public school classrooms.
The group holds monthly membership meetings on Saturdays at Georgia, whose principal owner is group officer Brad Johnson. Sessions, guided by a detailed agenda, typically run from 10 to 11:30 a.m., then give way to committee meetings until 1 p.m.
Incorporated as a nonprofit--and nonpartisan--organization, the New Leaders makes its headquarters at the downtown Los Angeles offices of Operation Hope, the banking consortium Bryant founded in the wake of the 1992 riots to provide business loans in devastated neighborhoods.
Part networking, part self-education, part community service, the New Leaders says in its lengthy and ambitious mission statement that it aims to "provide a forum for personal, economic and community development for the existing and future leadership within the African American community."
Some members have a political bent, including Inglewood Councilman Garland Hardeman; Compton City Treasurer Douglas Sanders; loan executive Daryl W. Sweeney, who is running for the Carson City Council; and Reginald Jones-Sawyer, an aide to Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. Co-founder Ross made his first bid for public office in 1995, seeking the 10th District seat on the Los Angeles City Council, and forced a runoff between the two better-known and better-financed candidates, Councilman Nate Holden and attorney Stan Sanders.
But most members of the group are striving primarily in other fields: business and finance, law, medicine and, frequently, news and entertainment. The group counts among its members Rose Catherine Pinkney, a vice president for Paramount Network Television; Black Entertainment Network reporter Paula Bond; and television news anchors/reporters Dave Clark and Pat Harvey of KCAL Channel 9.
Bryant and Ross, who have become close friends since meeting at a post-riots gathering at the Westside home of a black celebrity, remain the driving forces behind the group.
Bryant, who turned 31 last week, is outgoing, frenetically energetic and blunt-spoken. He got his start in business selling candy to schoolmates in Compton. He dropped out of community college after a year ("It was boring"), did some acting, waited tables and eventually got into finance.