A Proper Sendoff And Fitting Farewell To 'Baba' Dick GregoryBy Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor- | Last updated: Sep 19, 2017 - 6:27:00 PM
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LANDOVER, Md.—Dick Gregory was a comedian, but he was so much more. He was a civil rights leader, but he was so much more than that. He was a health advocate, and more.
“We thank him for a life of sacrifice,” Mr. Gregory’s son Christian told the funeral at the City of Praise Family Ministries in suburban Landover, Md. “While we celebrate his life, we also acknowledge all of the suffering, all of the pain, and all of the glory.
“Obviously, losing a loved one is never easy, especially when that loved one is an absolute warrior, father, friend and husband. Everyone kind of feels like they lost their ‘Baba.’” Mr. Gregory continued using the affectionate Swahili word “Baba,” a title meaning “brother,” or “father” which has been attached as an honorific to Mr. Gregory’s name for several years.
“Mr. Gregory had many titles: funny man, social activist, trail blazer, civil rights leader, health advocate, and author,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said at the funeral. “But it seemed that the title he relished the most was truth teller.”
“In the movement, we used to cry, and shout, and roar against racism,” D. C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said. “Dick did us one better. He made racism look absurd. With his brilliant, crossover talent, Dick even made White folks laugh at their own racism.” Mrs. Norton and Mr. Gregory were involved together in many civil rights and voting rights campaigns, up to and including the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s.
“He applied his direct, straight forward approach to life, to everything that he did,” said Mayor Bowser. “On the comedy circuit, he fused humor with plain talk. On the campaign trail, he spoke out against police brutality, and spoke up for criminal justice reform and for resources for substance abuse. And on marches for civil rights he gathered with countless others in defiance of segregation and in support of voting rights,” she said.
Like others, Mayor Bowser embraced Mr. Gregory in Washington, not his original hometown. “Here in D.C. we adopted Mr. Gregory as our very own. We loved him, and he loved us back.”
The three-day celebration of his life included a viewing at the Louis Stokes Medical Library on the campus of Howard University, the funeral, and a final parade from the historic Howard Theatre on U Street, where Mr. Gregory performed often as a stand-up comedian during his 55-year stage career, to the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl several blocks away where a new mural on its wall, depicting legendary D.C. icons, including Mr. Gregory was unveiled last month.
The 6-hour-long funeral—was necessarily long according to the Rev. Willie Wilson of Union Temple Baptist Church, because, “you can’t have a short celebration for a tall man.”
The service included remarks by the children of Brother Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, and Richard Pryor; a musical tribute by Mr. Gregory’s daughter Ayanna; a musical tribute by India Arie; remarks by the Rev. William Barber; a performance by Joe Morton from the one-man stage play ‘Turn Me Loose’ which depicts Mr. Gregory’s life; powerful words from Mr. Gregory’s family members; and remarks by former Congressional Black Caucus Chair, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).
All were gathered “to hear about the funny man, the straight man, who impacted our minds and impacted our hearts,” Reena Evers-Everette, the daughter of slain Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers said at the funeral.
“He gave up a fortune to help Black people, what are you going to do?” Rep. Waters asked the audience. “Don’t come here today and say how much you love him and go to work tomorrow and skin and grin. It’s time for us to have courage to do what we need to do. Now is the time for us to have courage.”
“I wish I could sit and talk with Dick because I have work to do,” she continued, declaring that Mr. Gregory had liberated her, and that she has now “taken off the gloves,” and would spend the rest of her career fulfilling a mission. “Because I’m cleaning out the White House. I’m going to sanitize the White House,” she said. Mr. Gregory was even a friend of Mrs. Waters’ mother in their original hometown St. Louis.
She also commended embattled comedian Bill Cosby, who was in attendance with his wife Camille. “I want to thank Bill and Camille Cosby,” Rep. Waters said to sustained applause. “Bill and Camille Cosby, they sent a tree that we planted for my mother, and that tree is flourishing on the lawn of the Gateway Center. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m a politician. I’m not supposed to thank Bill and Camille Cosby. A friend in need is a friend indeed, and if you can’t stand with your friends when they need you, then you’re not worth your salt.”
Dick Gregory imparted a deep spirituality, many speakers noted, although he was not at all a religiously bound person. He never professed to belong to any church, any mosque, or any synagogue. He was rooted to the boundless, universal God-force, according to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.
The biblical Jesus set out to “unite the whole of humanity into oneness with God, oneness with each other, and one community,” said Min. Farrakhan. “God ain’t bugged out by color. That’s the sickness of White supremacy, and it has nothing to do with Jesus.”
Mr. Gregory understood and applied his study to the “root of knowledge,” enabling him to “connect with all the branches,” Min. Farrakhan continued.
We are taught that we would be “one in Christ. Problem is, you’re not in him yet. That’s why Dick couldn’t join you. ‘Cause he’s trying to be one, not with religion, but one with the Universal King, the One God, Who created it all.”
“Faith produces works,” the Muslim leader said. “That was a man of faith. His faith made him, one of the greatest men of our time.”
The funeral concluded with a tribute concert by Stevie Wonder, joined on stage by Ayanna Gregory, daughter of Dick Gregory. “I am thankful for having lived in the time of Dick Gregory,” Mr. Wonder said before his performance. “All of my songs from 1999 until now are because Dick Gregory saved my life.”