This past weekend, our community learned that the great comedian and activist Dick Gregory died of heart failure. It is a tremendous loss to all of us. And as we mentioned in our Instagram post in tribute to Dick Gregory, African American history lessons should be updated to show that Mr. Gregory influence just in the area of civil rights alone is as great as Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X. And interestingly enough, he was friends with both. Gregory has a Texas connection; his early 1950s comedy career started in the military, and part of that was in Ft. Hood, over a couple of hours south of Dallas in Killeen. His first big break in comedy back in the 1960s came as a result of him not doing the typical “coon” style of comedy, but insisting that he deliver his comedy like any other mainstream comic. This insistence led directly to him being a national sensation at the Playboy Club in Chicago.
And what was one of his ground breaking comedy sketches that gained him wide acclaim? Here it is for all the younger brothas and sistas who are not familiar with his early, satirical comedy:
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
I understand there are a good many Southerners in the room tonight. I know the South very well. I spent twenty years there one night. Last time I was down South I walked into this restaurant and this white waitress came up to me and said,
“We don’t serve colored people here.”
I said, “That’s all right. I don’t eat colored people. Bring me a whole fried chicken.”
Then these three white boys came up to me and said,
“Boy, we’re giving you fair warning. Anything you do to that chicken, we’re gonna do to you.”
So I put down my knife and fork, I picked up that chicken and I kissed it. Then I said, “Line up, boys!”
In addition, he demanded to be treated like a regular guest on a major late-night TV show after he finished his live sketch. This was groundbreaking for black comedians such as Bill Cosby, Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor.
His success as a comedian led to speaking engagements, a run for the office of Chicago Mayor and President of the United States, and a diet and health lifestyle business. All of these activities led to him becoming an entrepreneur, especially given that it was better for a determined African American mind like his during an era when racism was more overt and in your face. Just a couple of years ago in 2015, Mr. Gregory commanded some $200,000 speaking fees from organizations like the U.S. Census Bureau. He also had streams of income from books, acting and his dietary products, most notably “Bahamian Diet Nutritional Drink” in the 1980s. He used his connections in the entertainment industry to promote his diet products on TV and radio, as well as at his speaking engagements. His subsequent Slim Safe product line generated some $30,000 a day back in the 1980s, according to Black Enterprise magazine. In 1989, he invested in a beachfront hotel property in Florida for $7 million. He also acquired other multi-acre properties all over the country. He had his share of profits and losses that coincided with the economy, but he was a trail blazing businessman who put his money where his mouth and heart was!
In one of his many, many televised interviews, he mentioned that he was a millionaire. He humbly bragged about a very expensive gift he got for his wife. His wealth status didn’t come easy, but his life’s work showed that he didn’t necessarily chase millions, but organized his mind and body to pursue all of his activities to benefit all mankind, with our community being the primary target of his beneficence. With that life mission executed very well, the money followed, which goes to show, if you do something you’re passionate about, the money will follow. And when it does, do not change your mind set to start pursuing money. Let the money keep following your passion (think on that).
Given that he was a track athlete in college, Dick Gregory should be an example to all college athletes, including our young brothas and sistas, on how to have other projects in the works in case one does not work out. But his example can be followed by all college students as they start going back to school this week, as well as professionals and business owners looking to make moves in the corporate world and on their own. He wasn’t just one of those who talked and wrote books, he stayed active and was determined to spark minds to do better, in personal and business lifestyles. What a full life he led.