Tribute to a Civil Rights Leader, Kaaba Brunson
I had the pleasure of attending Kaaba Brunson’s retirement dinner as he ended his 39 year career with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC). The standard fare was available in music, hors’ devours and fellowship. As the program got underway, we all began to truly experience the depth of conscientious leadership that Mr. Brunson embodied. People of all ages, races, and both genders stood in testimony of his inspiring commitment to equity and access.
Mr. Brunson has and remains a pillar in the community and a model for those around him. What I found most remarkable is his leadership style. Over and again, people remarked “I love you…” “you are truly a mentor..” and “You only expect the best…” By the accounts of many, Mr. Brunson was bold, brash, meticulous and humble all at the same time. He was, and still is, a tireless champion for human rights, while inspiring his staff around him to reach for new heights, continuously exceeding expectations. By his own remarks he continues to espouse, “Greatness comes from within… and you will have a hard time convincing me otherwise…” As the waves of people testified to how their lives were irrevocably touched by Mr. Brunson, he listened humbly, thanking everyone, and graciously accepting the showers of well-deserved praise and admiration. Even more remarkable, as this evening was about celebrating his career, Mr. Brunson’s remarks always included a thank you to his former boss, former executive director of the PHRC, Homer C. Floyd, the man who had recruited him to the PHRC over 40 years previous. And in the light of such praise, Mr. Brunson still remarks “Mr. Floyd I hope I did not let you down…”
In these tumultuous times, I had to take this opportunity and remark on this leadership for civil rights and human rights. With the EEOC reporting record complaints two years in a row, bullying occurring on several levels of many organizations, transformational leadership styles are certainly needed, and practically required to motivate and engage staff in the face of shrinking resources. Mr. Brunson’s leadership style of respectful great expectations has resulted in great results from his staff. His guidance provides a model for any leader, in any sector, seeking to meet objectives and exceed expectations. As Mr. Brunson remarked that all new hires received the canned speech on engagement and expectations at the PHRC, he quoted, “respect doesn’t come from the title or place; it comes from self, and I expect that we respect each other as colleagues.”
I write this as a tribute to not only a great civil rights activist, but as a consummate leader who has undoubtedly inspired 1000s of people, friends, family, staff, and employees. I am honored that he took the time to review my last book and offer insight. And I remain honored to have had the privilege to see a snap shot of a great life in leadership. Congratulations Kaaba Brunson… Peace…