An opinion by Christian Gregory
For the past 20 years, I have been Dick Gregory’s protector and am now working diligently to protect his legacy. Sometimes a community can love you to life or love you to death. I sat out this year’s Super Bowl. I am not over the NFL’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick.
I saw the reviews and as with most reviews, it is typically the negative ones that get heard and covered. From Justin Timberlake’s halftime show, the tribute to Prince and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. commercial, I keep getting messages in my inbox about all three. I haven’t seen a clip of Timberlake’s performance, however, I did catch a video of the Prince tribute. I thought it was magical, tasteful and beautifully done. Downtown Minneapolis awash in purple light was truly special. Tributes are for the folks’ legends and loved ones leave behind. If I was a member of Prince’s family, I would have been extremely moved by that tribute. The sail-like screen was far from a hologram, yet it reminded us of the talent we lost far too soon. I have heard and read interviews since with people discussing Prince’s feelings towards technology and postmortem musical collaborations. The truth is, entertainers don’t always say what is factual when asked questions. Oftentimes, it is show business. The same manic-like drive that thrusts many megastars into greatness, doesn’t typically allow for true public analysis about their art after death. I thought the tribute was befitting the icon. It potentially shared Prince’s talent and gift to a budding generation who may now be interested to learn more about the man and be exposed to his beautiful mind and his affinity for truth and knowledge.
But what I am here for today is the MLK Ram Truck pushback. I have consulted numerous Black Legends and advised many of their Estates. Here is a reality that will make some a little uncomfortable. We do not properly take care of our Legends. We feel entitled to them but rarely support them. I have given counsel and support to Black excellence for decades: true legends, iconic civil rights activists, Academy, Tony and Emmy Award-winning actors and producers, Grammy Award-winning musicians, sports stars, and personalities. Sadly, many of them struggle. They struggle emotionally, financially, physically and spiritually. Father Time has no preferential treatment for legendary human beings. I frequently say this is no country for old legends. Since my father’s transition, I have become immersed in his intellectual property (IP). Too frequently our community claims and considers it ours, when in fact it is their heirs, the Estate they left behind. Our legends’ children, grandchildren, greatgrands etc need healthcare, braces, education just like the rest of us. Their legendary ancestor left them a valuable commodity to support them—their intellectual property. I see countless tribute shows, videos and merchandising in Dick Gregory’s name often done without proper consent. Bootleg t-shirts were being sold outside my father’s funeral services. This is to be expected and on a small scale, I personally view it as a sign of respect. Pop was always about giving tirelessly to his community.
So here is the question: when was the last time you personally donated or purchased something that would benefit the King estate? Or any other legends’ Estate for that matter: Jackie Robinson, Malcolm X, Dr. Dorothy Height to name a few. There is a thick, bold line between protecting and monetizing a legend’s IP, I agree. I don’t imagine there was a crowd of advertisers clawing their way at Dr. King’s Estate for Super Bowl commercials. There is a long list of companies that I would’ve been angered by their use of Dr. King’s words and voice: cheap food and beverage products targeting and killing our community at staggering rates, companies with deplorable human and civil rights records. That said, I wasn’t offended by Dodge Ram’s commercial. Many folks, Black or white, had never heard that speech by Dr. King. Many hear the ‘I have a Dream’ speech and stop there. Maya Angelou’s Apple ad was moving and tastefully done. I felt inspired and uplifted by it. As status continues to grow and the world becomes increasingly Black and Brown we will see more of this. We should ask ourselves who is supporting the loved ones left behind by those who’ve paid the ultimate sacrifice for us. Talk is cheap and nobody wants a handout. We should allow folks to make decisions and moves without being incredibly hypersensitive and many times hypocritical.
Loving and supporting Black excellence doesn’t mean stifling and hoarding it. It is one of the most beautiful gifts to the world. Love and lessons derived out of pain and suffering. #Sayitloud