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Iakovos, Archbishop of North and South America, stood as straight and tall as a cypress tree, determinedly, impressively, with his episcopal headgear and his pastoral rod, walking to the right of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the city of Selma, AL.

As is well known during a peaceful demonstration there on March 7, 1965, the police ferociously attacked 600 protesters causing outcry and eventually the intervention of the federal government.

Why did Iakovos travel to the second march there two days later? What was a Greek hierarch doing there? What did he have in common with the protesters?

Many Greek-Americans asked then that question. Indeed, he had received several threatening phone calls that compelled him to hire bodyguards.

Years later, when Iakovos was a changed man, free from the burden of the responsibility of office, I often visited him at his home in Rye, NY.

One time I asked him that same question: why did he go?.

“I did it,” he said, “because as a Greek in Turkey I, too, was oppressed. I lived like a second-class citizen. I did not feel free. Once I was free, how could I ignore those who lived in similar circumstances to what mine had been?”

“But a part of the community strongly disagreed with you,” I remember telling him.

He smiled. And then said “so what?” waving his hand in that familiar way.

When I saw that photo of him in Selma on the New York Times’ website – there was a typo and his name appeared as “Lakovos” – I said to myself: this is what is missing from Hellenism today.

We are missing a leader of such stature who would say: “so what?”

A leader who would lead, who would tell the truth, and place the affairs of the nation on his shoulders. Who would win the trust if not the hearts of the people, and offer different solutions from what the polls preferred.

It was a time of great leaders in Greece: Karamanlis, Makarios, Iakovos, Papandreou, Mitsotakis.
They were not infallible. But they were leaders.

Now, I wonder if the lack of exemplary men and women, deprived the youth of mentors, of good examples to emulate, and creates a void of worthy competition in which contemporaries can strive to better themselves.

A leader of such caliber, would make the big decisions would act to redeem the people and the nation.

Iakovos was criticized in his time for his participation in Selma, but he knew he was doing the right thing.

And now he is recognized as a leader not only by the Greek-American community but throughout America.

That is what makes a leader.

Source: The National Herald
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