As a college student, I was a bit of a rabble rouser. Protests were the norm and questioning the system in place was a regular occurrence. Nothing the school ever did seemed good enough. So I fought the policies and decisions at every chance possible. Administrators were annoyed and some of my fellow students thought I was going too hard. Expressions like, “Jeff is just mad again” and “What are we going to do with him” became familiar phrases. A mentor of mine once said, only a few will see your vision for the future. That felt like the truth back then. In some eyes I was regarded as a great leader and to others, a bad guy.
Fast forward to a few years later and I became a college administrator. At every institution I’ve worked, there was a student who was a disruptive leader. There was always someone who held the interest of the people above the interests of the institutions. From an administrative side, I began to see what others once saw in me, when looking at these students. I saw how some world leaders and non supporters would look at Fidel Castro. You’ll be defined as an irritant or as a great change agent. So, if Fidel was my student I would let him know that there will many people trying to sway you away from your goals. Moments of you galvanizing your fellow students will drive you to a place of success and greatness. You’ll have mentees without even knowing it. You’ll have new followers who will start attending meetings to catch of glimpse of what’s going on. In the meantime, the detractors will be there. Haters will be in the room. Your good moves will be questioned. Every wrong choice you make, and trust me there are going to be wrong choices, will be scrutinized. People will forget what it was like before you and assume you were the only person to make a poor choice. The pressure will be on, so if you truly believe in the mission laid out, stay ready.
Nobody is perfect and I would have to have a conversation with Fidel about some of his humanitarian issues or women’s rights. Transformative leadership is complicated. It’s way more complicated than a relationship status on a Facebook post. People aren’t going to love all of your decisions but do understand that so many others will see how much you sacrificed to take a chance at leaving a legacy. As much as I would critique some of his decisions, I would also praise him for the tremendous support his regime gave to so many African nations and black movements. I’ve seen amazing presidents of culturally based organization shun certain communities but uplift their constituents like no other. There have been many cases in which a fraternity or sorority leader might have ignored others feelings but pushed their brothers and sisters to the highest point possible. So, if Fidel was my student I would tell him to be as cognizant of all parties as possible. While doing so though, always remember your people and mission. Sometimes in favor of our goals, we miss out on supporting others who could use some additional leadership.
If Fidel Castro were a student of mine, I would have asked him about his plans for the club or organization once he graduated. So many veteran student leaders are tremendous while in office but then the club dies once they move on. What will happen to Cuba, next? Some students lead with so much authority that nobody can follow their presence. I can’t express how important it is to prepare for the future. You won’t be around forever, so if you want your legacy to last, make sure to mentor younger students who can run the show after you’re out of there.
When I think of Fidel Castro’s death, I hear the voices of both sides of the story. With that said, being the enemy of the state, doesn’t make you an enemy to everybody. I see celebratory reactions as well as tears of sadness. I have seen student leaders who graduate as heroes and others who walk out to joy of administrators. The work will ultimately speak for itself.
Whether you love him or not, Fidel Castro was a giant part of the 20th century. He outlasted 10 US presidents and countless assassination attempts. At the end of it all, his legacy will be defined by the lens from which you are looking.
MrJeffDess is a writer, professor, public speaker and emcee of Haitian descent. He is an author of 5 books of poetry, including his latest, Trill Motivation With over ten years of performing and student affairs experience under his belt MrJeffDess continues to strive towards helping students reach their highest potential. For booking information, contact MrJeffDess at firstname.lastname@example.org