History Professor Phyllis Leffler Inspires

The first thing I noticed about her was that she was confident and careful. Each word that Phyllis LefflerProfessor Phyllis Leffler spoke was said with purpose and meant to inspire.

Leffler has been a professor at U.Va for nearly 30 years and specializes in Public History, the History of U.Va, and Oral History. In 2014, she published a book entitled Black Leaders on Leadership: Conversations with Julian Bond, which compliments a project with social activist and Civil Rights leader Julian Bond.

Leffler completed her Ph.D. at Ohio State University, her Masters at the University of Sussex in England and B.A. at Queens College of the City University of New York. However, she is firmly a Wahoo.

A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to sit down and have a talk with this wonderful, confident, and inspiring professor.

Why do you think that it’s important for people to take the time to read your book or view your website?

This work, that Julian Bond and I did together, records the thoughts and experiences of 50 very important American thinkers and leaders. It records the voices of people who are often left out of the history books. They are all African-American representing people from a diversity of career paths. They are younger, older, women, men and from all parts of the country. This is a cross-section of the American experience into the 20th and 21st century. They teach us about the American experience and about ourselves.

The website has all of the interviews on them, so I encourage you to explore by person or topic. It’s a great research tool. The book is a synthesis of these stories– about life in America.

What’s the most valuable lesson that you learned from this project?

I came to understand that leadership can be learned. To be a strong and committed leader requires fortitude, determination and diligence. Our strongest leaders go beyond a desire to succeed. Their passion is to improve the world they inherited. That is what it takes to be a leader.

Is there something that you wish your students knew about you?

I have a passion for music. It has been an important part of my life. I am a classical pianist. I’ve played the piano all of my life and I continue to work at it. Playing the piano brings me in touch with a deeper part of my soul that most people don’t know about.

Is there something that you want parents to know?

I would love parents of students to know that I am a parent of two children who both went to college…  one of them went to U.Va! I think I have a pretty good idea of what most of them are experiencing here. I hope I would bring a certain level of empathy in the classroom.

Before I moved into the History Department, I spent 10 years in the Dean’s office as an Association Dean, so I know a lot about college requirements and how people work through the system and what’s set in place to help students. I know the stresses and pressures that people feel when they are in college.


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Thoughts on “History Professor Phyllis Leffler Inspires

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