Comedy is powerful.
Comedy, when executed well, eases tension, helps create discussion on difficult topics, and can even be the connecting tether which bridges people of different backgrounds, nationalities, and interests together over shared experience in laughter.
Dick Gregory obviously knew the power of comedy long before the rest of the world could understand how trivial the qualms over race and economic status were in this country’s long, ongoing fight with injustice. Gregory used his platform as a comedian to fight for the rights of people of color by becoming the first black comedian to cross over to white audiences and from the stage he’d leap into the freedom fight as an activist exposing truth about racism in the U.S.
At the time when Gregory’s comedic banter was criticized for its political connotations, he never faltered. Through humor he saw a way to talk about the injustices black Americans faced and understood that by denying the truth of racial inequality and choosing not to offend those audience members in which he entertained, he was then denying the chance to enact change.
Not only did Gregory actively fight during the Civil Rights Movement, but he also recognized the plights happening around the world including, but not limited to: Equal rights for women, animal rights, and peace in the Middle East.
We live in a time where citizens in the U.S. are more vulnerable to the same mistreatment and defilement that activists like Gregory, Dr. King, and many others fought against it is time to look to our former leaders in order to understand ways in which our celebrities and entertainers can use their platforms to fight the injustices taking place at every level of the community.
Of all the statements Gregory has made, when asked why he chooses to be involved politically, he answered saying this:
"You see, there comes a time when you got to decide what you are and what you want. Way I see it now, I'm an individual first, an American second and a Negro third. But I'm a Negro before I'm an entertainer."
Though revered as an entertainer, Gregory understood the weight of his status and reputation, but above all else, he understood the weight of being a person of color. With this understanding he knew the significance of his personal growth and success which far exceeded that of an entertainer.
Though we mourn the death of Dick Gregory, we must remember to celebrate his life and the work he represented in order to demonstrate a selfless way of living life for young people. In doing this, we can help teach the next generation what it means to be an individual first.