February 25, 2019

Servant Leadership

BAC Heritage Award recipients share the tradition of servant leadership.


There’s no one-size-fits-all servant leader description. However, our 2019 honoree, Jeh Charles Johnson fits almost any definition.

From relatively humble surroundings in New York City to the upstate suburban community of Wappingers Falls, NY, Jeh's successful career in law, government, and corporate stewardship coincides with this country's most turbulent events of the past twenty years.

As the nation's fourth Secretary of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama, and previously as General Counsel of the Department of Defense, and General Council of the Department of the Air Force, Jeh Johnson has steadfastly answered the call to serve. At each post Jeh has led with humility, good humor, and a forthright sense of duty to country and community. 


There are many individuals who have the capacity for greatness and the qualities necessary to lead. There are fewer perhaps who choose first to serve. Rather than a life and career focused solely on enriching oneself, servant leaders like Jeh, and like the Heritage Award recipients before him, have chosen to enrich the lives of others, to protect the rights of others, to build better organizations, to uplift those in need, and ultimately create a more just, equitable, and learned society. 

Jeh_3.jpgLet's not mistake servant leadership only with faith-based and nonprofit causes. Jeh is a highly successful attorney. And BAC Heritage Award honorees, hail from many fields of endeavor and academic disciplines - journalism, business, teaching, scholarship, political activism, law, academic administration, and more. 

As with all human endeavors, imperfection is a component part of leadership. But the willingness to admit imperfection, even failure, can become a virtue. Our Heritage Award honorees are accomplished, giving, and deserving of recognition, even if at times flawed or less than successful in all they do. 

Jeh_JohnsonSM1_(1).jpgFor Columbia's Black alumni, the act of honoring those who come before us and who persevere to serve others, is more than tribute. Each year we get to write our history; to map the legacy of Black students and future students at Columbia University. We don't all have the same experience on campus as Columbia students, but the path to Columbia and universities like it for Black students has historically been paved with the same racism and roadblocks. We share that common experience.

Today, as alumni and future alumni, we can have a profound impact, indeed almost any impact we desire, if we are willing to work hard enough for it. How we serve as alumni should never be debated; that we serve however remains paramount.

We honor Jeh Charles Johnson this year, knowing that he will continue to serve and that his example will continue to inspire alumni and future alumni. 

Jeh Johnson '82LAW was honored at the annual BAC Heritage Award and Scholarship Fund Reception on Tuesday, February 26, 2019 in Pulitzer Hall of the Columbia University School of Journalism. 

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