Gil Robertson. CONTRIBUTED 

‘Book of Black Heroes’ author wants to encourage civic leadership

Long before Gil Robertson became an entertainment writer and co-founder and leader of the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA), he worked as a political consultant. Political engagement came easy for the Los Angeles native.

“I grew up in a family where being political and civically involved is just who we are,” he explains. “And I also grew up in a generation where political leaders, elected officials, were given a more elevated platform and visibility than they are today.”

That time of the 1970s when cities like Los Angeles, Detroit and Atlanta elected their first black mayors with Tom Bradley, Coleman Young and Maynard Jackson was magical for Robertson. It gave black political leadership a spotlight that he saw rekindled with the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first black president. A desire to seize and stoke that momentum led Robertson, whose previous books include the anthologies “Not in My Family: AIDS in the African-American Community” and “Family Affair: What It Means to Be African American Today,” to pen the young-adult book, “Book of Black Heroes: Political Leaders Past and Present” for pioneering black children’s book publisher Just Us Books.

Book Cover of Book of Black Heroes: Political Leaders Past and Present, Just Us Books.

“I wanted to provide an introduction to the next generation of current and past black leaders,” says Robertson, who splits his residency between Atlanta and Los Angeles. “For the most part, I don’t think leadership occupies the imagination of the minds of young people in the same way that it did for previous generations, which is surprising given the onslaught of round-the-clock news. But I think there are so many distractions out there that leadership is something that is overlooked or perhaps is seen as unattainable.”

RELATED: Author Events August 6-12

Providing an overview of past and present black leadership was challenging, Robertson acknowledges. “We couldn’t include everyone, which is unfortunate, but we tried to include individuals who would offer the best representation in a number of areas.

“We made great efforts to include women. We also made efforts to include Republicans. We have (Utah Congresswoman) Mia Love and (Senator) Tim Scott from South Carolina who are two high-profile Republicans. We also have someone from the LGBT community.”

Robertson believes his book can awaken the inner political in young people. “Give it to them. Let them read it. Make it available to them,” he advises parents and educators. “Having the access is the first thing and then,” if political leadership is an interest, “further cultivate that with organizations and activities that offer platforms for young people to become more engaged and develop their leadership skills.”

Robertson will moderate a political panel Friday, Aug. 11 during the Black Librarians Annual Conference at the Grand Hyatt Buckhead at 1 p.m., signing books afterward. To find out more about the book and Gil Robertson and future events, visit

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