11/11/2010 11:05 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

James E. Clyburn: Congressional Champion, Community Advocate

Great leaders are not often born...they're made. In the case of our leaders within the civil rights community, they often endure trial by fire, face striking parallels between right and wrong, and confront the need to make decisions about equality, fairness, and justice from an early age. Such was the case for James E. Clyburn, Democratic Majority Whip of the 111th Congress, who began his tenured leadership at the ripe old age of twelve when he became the president of his local youth chapter of the NAACP.

Fifty plus years later, Congressman Clyburn has found himself at the helm of the modern civil rights movement -- a leader in America's highest legislative office, charged with ensuring the well-being of all Americans, and uniquely positioned to help improve the lives of people of color.

A longstanding member of Congress, Clyburn has honed his leadership skills with a special panache for advocating on behalf of the unserved and underserved members of our country. It is here, within the halls of Congress, that he has been an avid champion of a strong civil rights agenda -- focused on jobs, health care, quality education, and social, economic, and political parity -- with the complete understanding that when even "the least among us" has the opportunity to succeed, we all win in the end. This understanding has guided Clyburn in his leadership over the past several years, and now he is faced with yet another opportunity to help steer his colleagues toward the advancement of the common good during the upcoming 112th Congress.

Days ago, after a crushing and sobering loss of the Democratic majority in Congress, Clyburn placed his bid to transition his leadership in light of the new congressional majority. Within 72 hours, Clyburn's longtime colleague and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced that he would not compete with current U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for the Minority Leader post, but would instead go head to head with Clyburn for the Minority Whip position.

As noted by entrepreneur extraordinaire and cultural philanthropist Bob Johnson, Clyburn "is a steadfast advocate for issues that have a direct impact on the African American community, and his voice must remain at the forefront of the 112th Congress. To diminish his leadership role in Congress would run the risk of losing a significant part of the Black vote, a decision the Democratic Party cannot afford at this most critical time in history."

Throughout his career, Clyburn has been known for his ability to build consensus around tough issues, mobilizing both his colleagues and critical Democratic constituencies to adopt positions that can impact positive change. Now, given the new political dynamics of the upcoming Congress, his leadership is needed now more than ever.

Only time will tell who the next Minority Whip will be, but if Clyburn is at the helm, his continued efforts at progress, camaraderie, and civil rights leadership will not go unnoticed.

The opinions expressed in this Op-Ed are solely those of David Honig, Esq., a veteran civil rights attorney. Mr. Honig has known Congressman Clyburn since the 1970s, when he served as the top civil rights official for the State of South Carolina.