Monday, August 21, 2017

Extraordinary Dick Gregory

He was born in October 1932.  He died in 2017, this month.  I grew up in a South Central L.A. household that loved Dick Gregory.  I picked up the love of him from Mom and Dad.  We had Dick Gregory books, Dick Gregory comedy albums and I loved watching Dad watch Dick Gregory on TV.  Dad wasn't a very outgoing man.  He kept to himself, not in a cold way.  Kind of like the type of character Gary Cooper became known for playing in old westerns.  When Dad watched Dick Gregory with Jack Paar, he'd be animated with laughter in his living room chair.  Dad especially loved Gregory's routine about going into a restaurant down South and ordering a chicken.  I love it too.  That bit is a classic.  When I was in high school, I read Dick Gregory's autobiography which was provocatively titled "nigger."  There was a purpose, an intelligent social activist purpose, to that title and when realize it at the touching end of book.  That was a celebrity autobiography that moved me to my very soul when I was a high school kid in Watts, a Watts still charred from the riots (rebellion) that made national headlines.  Through the decades, from my boyhood days to this very year when Dick Gregory was profiled and interviewed on CBS SUNDAY MORNING, his comedy coupled with his brave, steely social activism moved and inspired me.  A current generation mainly knows the image of the older Gregory.  But, man, when I was a teen, I wanted to look and dress like Dick Gregory when he did TV and comedy club dates.  That dude was clean!
 Dick Gregory was right there with other rebels.  Muhammad Ali...
...and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nobel Peace Prize recipient.
Think about the history Dick Gregory witness in his lifetime.  He was doing comedy and Civil Rights activism when Black Americans could not sit at a lunch counter down South without fear of being physically attacked.  He was around for Dr. King's historic March on Washington, when the Voting Rights Act of 1964 assured Black Americans the right to vote, he was grief-stricken at the assassination of Dr. King by a racist in 1968.  He lived to see Dr. King's birthday become a federal holiday and to see Barack Obama sworn in as American's first Black President of the United States.   He saw history.  He was a part of that history.  He was a major trailblazer who made us laugh.

Dick Gregory died at age 84, a couple of months shy of another birthday.  Here's an excerpt of a message from him on social media.  I saw it posted by SELMA film director, Ava DuVernay:
"As I approach my 85th revolution around the sun this year, I wonder why it has been so difficult for humankind to be kind.  So difficult to be loving and lovable.  For my militant brothers and sisters, please don't misconstrue loving and lovable to be weak or submissive.  Love will always be triumphant over hate.  I know I will not be here forever, nor do I desire to be.  I have seen progress like most cannot appreciate because they were not there to bear witness.  I dedicated my life to the movement.  By doing so, I never thought I'd still be here.  So many of my friends are not here.  They were cut down by a system of hatred and evil.  If they were here, they'd see the progress that I see.......To the young folks of all ethnicities, I say 'stay woke' not as a catchphrase but as a lifestyle.....From the top to bottom of my heart I say 'stay woke.'  Love you to life, Dick Gregory"
Brother Gregory, that wise elder, is young again now and reunited with friends.  I am so grateful that he was here.  He opened doors...and minds.  And he never, ever lost his righteous angers.

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