Winter 2014

Reflections of Great NBCSL Leaders

By LaKimba B. DeSadier, NBCSL Executive Director has served as the Executive Director for NBCSL since 2003. She has worked to promote the organization in state legislatures, as well as increase its membership and visibility nationwide.

In 2003, I experienced several significant events in my life: a new marriage, my first pregnancy, and a challenging job as the Executive Director of NBCSL. Over the years, NBCSL presidents have taught me great lessons and have served as an essential component of my support system. Having served over a decade in this role, I thought it was only fitting to reach out to the four presidents under whom I have served to gather their perspectives on leadership. 

03-PastPresidentsRecorded History: Five NBCSL Executive Directors Standing Behind Six NBCSL Presidents. Standing left to right: Stan Straughter, Charles Bremer, Ivan Lanier, Khalil Abdullah, and LaKimba DeSadier. Sitting left to right: Sen. Clarence Mitchell, III (MD); Sen. Regis Groff (CO); Rep. Lois DeBerry (TN); Rep. James Thomas (AL); Rep. Mary Coleman (MS); and Rep. Calvin Smyre (GA).To describe my first year as a trial by fire is definitely an understatement. However, I do remember that it was the mentorship and guidance of then-President, Representative Mary Coleman (MS), which truly supported my transition into this role. For Representative Coleman—who assumed the leadership of an NBCSL with a deficit—her ability to network with the corporate community and gain its respect and support allowed her to shore up NBCSL's finances and place the organization back on track. She also increased the national office staff participation in the organization, as she believed they are its backbone. Representative Coleman thought that one of the tests of her leadership was embracing the need to be humble enough to accept criticism. Nevertheless, her strong faith and trust in God helped her to continue moving forward with her work, standing firm in her belief in what she knew was right, resulting in her having no regrets from her four-year presidency of NBCSL.

Representative Calvin Smyre (GA) assumed leadership of the organization next. He did not initially envision himself as president, even though he had served under all NBCSL presidents except one.  He focused his efforts on growing the organization and pushing forward its mission, while at the same time learning about the uniqueness of all legislators and how to be receptive and respectful of everyone’s ideas and experiences. This year, Representative Smyre celebrates 40 years of being a legislator.  This experience has helped to shape and inspire his leadership of NBCSL during his four years as President. While he expanded the focus of the organization to embrace non-traditional issues such as technology and energy, he had hoped to accomplish other goals such as establish an NBCSL State Liaison, a Black Caucus Chairs Council, as well as an NBCSL Foundation. However, he recognized the limitations of time, resources, and staff capacity to achieve these goals and was nevertheless proud of his achievement to take the organization to the next level.

03-PastPresidents 2In her role as President, Representative Barbara Ballard (KS) empowered NBCSL members to become more effective leaders within the organization, and helped them to understand and implement the mission and goals of NBCSL. She emphasized that while NBCSL members are African American, those legislators actually represent a very diverse constituency; therefore, it was critical to promote inclusivity within the organization. One test of her leadership was streamlining NBCSL’s resolutions process and ensuring that they aligned with the mission and values of the organization. Representative Ballard remarked that she learned a lot about managing conflict, negotiating, compromise, patience, as well as diligence as she led efforts to improve the process. Notwithstanding these challenges, she thoroughly enjoyed the journey. During her tenure, she had hoped to establish an alumni council of former legislators who would contribute their institutional and professional knowledge and experience. However, as the first president limited to a two-year leadership period, she also understood the limitations of time and resources to accomplish this goal.

Current NBCSL President, Representative Joe Armstrong (TN) pondered the direction his presidency—internal development or expansion of the organization—and decided that his approach would incorporate aspects of both options. He has focused on ensuring the organization was both fiscally and structurally sound, and he has enhanced the ability of the organization to network and provide support for its members, particularly through communications and social media. President Armstrong credits NBCSL with informing his work as a legislator, given that he was connected to NBCSL before he was elected to the Tennessee General Assembly. While he had hoped to increase attendance of NBCSL members at meetings during his presidency, especially among newly elected legislators, he is cognizant of the effects of state budgets on travel. Nevertheless, he continues to encourage Black legislators of every party affiliation across the country to become active members of NBCSL.

Each of these leaders also provided guidance for future NBCSL leaders. Representative Coleman counseled future leaders to be open and firm in their beliefs, but also to be willing to compromise for the good of the organization. Representative Smyre’s message was one of inclusivity and encouraging the recruitment of new individuals to the organization. Representative Ballard wanted future leaders to focus on strengthening the administration of the organization through its national staff, as well as ensuring that the mission of the organization remains the foundation of all its efforts. Finally, President Armstrong emphasized that leaders must recognize the position they assume is not about them as individuals, but the organization and communities they serve.

All of these NBCSL Presidents have had a profound effect on the trajectory and success of this organization and my role as the Executive Director.   I know I speak for many of you when I express my deepest appreciation of their contributions, support, leadership, and continued dedication to the work of state legislators across the country. Their perspectives on leadership will continue to provide me with inspiration and guidance.

“Thank you all for your leadership, I will continue to walk in your footsteps”.

LaKimba B. DeSadier

NBCSL Executive Director has served as the Executive Director for NBCSL since 2003. She has worked to promote the organization in state legislatures, as well as increase its membership and visibility nationwide.