By Bro. Ron C. Herd II aka R2C2H2 Tha Artivist
Hollywood could not imagine a character like him. He was Forrest Gump with a brain, a moral compass and a sense of purpose. Who he was and what he was about was not accidental or a stroke of luck but, divinely inspired, conspired and calculated. He was not a funnyman but a conjure man, he was not a clown, but a trickster and he was not a storyteller, but a master griot in the greatest African tradition.
Baba Dick was to modern comedy what Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and the like were to modern Jazz. You had to stop being silly, dancing and laughing to pay attention and hear what they were communicating via their craft to receive the real blessing and nourishment. I always tell people that true Black History is better than Hollywood fiction and it can sometimes be stranger than Science Fiction.
Baba Dick Gregory was the ultimate Uncle Tom, one of the greatest shapeshifters of all time. Research the original meaning of “Uncle Tom” and you will “overstand” what I’m talking about. Baba taught me, “See how it works?” and in the span of 84 years, he lived nine very distinctive lifetimes. He constantly reinvented himself, with the only constants being dedication and faithfulness to “Hue-Manity.” He was the ultimate soldier for true social justice and “universoul” peace. He went from being a person weighing nearly 400 pounds, smoking four packs of cigarettes and drinking a fifth of Scotch daily to weighing 98 pounds, utilizing extreme fasting for several months to protest the horrors of the Vietnam War, and running 50 miles daily cross country to protest worldwide hunger. He was the spiritual guru of the legendary Beatles John Lennon and Yoko Ono, helping them to detox from “the evils” of the high life and co-compose (uncredited) ARGUABLY John Lennon’s biggest hit, “Imagine.”
He was the nutritionist for the Greatest, Muhammad Ali, helping him to win key boxing matches later in his career, and was the holistic doctor to both the G.O.A.T. entertainer Michael Jackson and the G.O.A.T. Black politico and former Washington D.C. Mayor Marion Barry – intervening to save and extend their lives, albeit briefly, from the clutches of the terrorism which is a system of white supremacy and racism.
He wore so many hats and was so many different things to so many different people. He was the best friend and confidant, albeit briefly, to Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Medgar Evers – all iconic freedom fighters of the Black liberation struggle, all loving patriarchs of young Black families and all dead before the age of 40.
Baba Dick was the ultimate Brothers’ Keeper because he not only carried the cross of his burdens, but he also picked up the generational crosses and burdens of his fellow warriors who were cut down in their prime on the battlefield of white supremacy.
Baba Dick’s greatest weapon was information. He knew information was power. He also knew that some of the most powerful institutions in this system are ran on information, whether it be the FBI, CIA, DIA, NSA, Wall Street or Las Vegas gambling, among other things.
Baba also believed in the power of the Black media to tell the story, struggles and triumphs of our people. He invested heavily in information whether it be spending thousands of dollars weekly on newspapers, being the deciding vote in saving the now popular “The Democracy Now!” news program form extinction at Pacific Radio, or helping a young and ambitious entrepreneur named Cathy Hughes in co-hosting her daily talk radio show on her upstart media platform known as Radio One. Baba Dick “overstood” that people must know before they can act in the desired manner and to paraphrase the great ancestor Ida B. Wells-Barnett, there is no greater educator than the press.
What I love about Baba Dick was his ability to embrace the new technological phenomenon known as social media to effectively leverage and amplify his message of “universoul truth,” social justice, history, health, and “lovability.” He told me on several occasions that the wonders of alternative media platforms like mine in particular and the internet, in general, has allowed him to be bigger now than he ever was 50 years ago. I often find that hard to grasp considering he was once one of the highest paid entertainers, making more money annually than Frank Sinatra, and the first Black person to ever run for President of the United States. Mind you, unlike Shirley Chisholm, Rev. Jesse Jackson or Barack Obama, he did not have to go the primary voting route of a Democratic or Republican candidate, but ran as an independent write-in candidate, effectively garnering both a large number of votes. According to The Wall Street Journal, Baba Dick allegedly won Pennsylvania with 9 million votes but it was later retracted by the powers that be and attributed to a rare computer glitch in the voting system (yeah right) and attention for his causes.
There was an unexpected Baba Dick Gregory renaissance beginning in 2013. But first, let me back up. I have known Baba Dick Gregory for six years. In 2009, the late great Marcus Jones, a friend and the father of Mychal Bell one of the Jena 6, suggested back in 2009 that I interview Baba Dick. He told me how instrumental he was in keeping him spiritually grounded and encouraged as he and others led the fight to exonerate his son and the five other African-American males who were targets of a “just us” system bent on emasculating, genociding and destroying the lives and potential of Black folks. He gave me Baba Dick’s phone number to his home in Plymouth, MA. I called and a female, who I think was Baba Dick’s wife, The BE-YOU-TOO-FULL Sis. Lillian answered the phone and told me to fax my interview request. It was a simple request. After all, I was sitting in my car at a FedEx’s Kinkos in Memphis when I made the call. However, it took me two years to fax that request. I really don’t know why it took me so long to do so. But, before I finally did I had to do some research on my potential subject. I went to my local library to check out Baba Dick’s classic autobiography “Nigger.” Finally, I made the call again and faxed my request. It changed my life.
February 9, 2011, was the first of many times I interviewed Baba Dick Gregory. The first interview was live for my podcast, W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Radio. In primetime on blogtalkradio with hundreds of listeners anticipating his every word as well as hundreds of callers waiting to join the conversation. It was truly surreal for me.
But the real 2nd Act or maybe the 9th Act for the Dick Gregory Renaissance began when I released THE MOVIE REVIEW HEARD AROUND THE WORLD. I ASKED Baba Dick to give his review or critique of the controversial movie “Django Unchained” by Quentin Tarantino. Baba Dick in true form said that he thoroughly enjoyed it and that it freed him. He also put the film in historical context, stating that the Django character was inspired by the real historical figure known as Dangerfield Newby, one of John Brown’s Black Raiders at Harper’s Ferry back on October 16, 1859. Among the first to die at Harper’s Ferry in West, Virginia, after Dangerfield was killed, on his person a letter was found from his wife telling him to rescue her from slavery, a major theme in the movie. Baba also went out of his way to call filmmaker Spike Lee who was hypercritical of the movie but did not see it at the time, a “thug punk” and went h.a.m. on Spike’s portrayal of a young Malcolm a.k.a Detroit Red in his Malcolm X biopic.
Once I uploaded it on my YouTube channel it immediately went viral. Within 24 hours I received a phone call from Baba Dick thanking me immensely for the interview because within that period he received a phone call from Quentin Tarantino, Jamie Foxx and others involved in the movie thanking him for his powerful endorsement. I also started to receive phone calls, emails, and text messages from around the country and the world requesting an interview, sometimes a joint interview with Baba and me but I already knew who they really wanted. My ego wasn’t bruised by the notion of me being used just to get to Baba Dick. It didn’t bother me at all because like Baba Dick told me many times before that when “The Universe” decides to use you it doesn’t always leave fingerprints.
And so when you stop and think about it, Baba Dick reinvented himself again. The creative genius and “universoul” phenomena known as Baba Dick Gregory was reintroduced to a new generation of younger fans and people yearning for information from a credible and venerable Elder in every sense of the word. I could go on and on, but I will save the rest for a book perhaps. Baba Dick Gregory was truly in the words of the great Duke Ellington “Beyond Category.”
Many Thanks To The Creator For Manifesting A True Original In Every Sense Of The Word And I Believe It Is Safe To Say That There Was None Before Him & There Will Be None Like Him Every Again … SEE HOW IT WORKS???