Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

JUNETEENTH: Dick Gregory speaks on “The Game” at the Starlight Room on Broadway in North St. Louis

Juneteenth is "the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States". I celebrated my first Juneteenth in the early 1990s as a member of Luisah Teish's "Full Accord Ensemble: Arts at the Crossroads."

This year, though, I celebrated Juneteenth with Dick Gregory at the Starlight Room on Broadway in North St. Louis.

Dick Gregory
Dick Gregory

Back in Northern California if I said I'd been out at the Starlight Room last night, folks woulda thought I meant Harry Denton's Starlight Room, located in the Sir Francis Drake Hotel on the 21st floor, 450 Powell Street at the corner of Sutter Street. To tell you the truth? I never got there.

But, I did get to The Starlight Room on Broadway in North St. Louis where Dick Gregory spoke last night, returning like a bass chord to the theme of "It's all a game" in his appeal for honesty with ourselves and one another and as a culture. The Starlight Room on Broadway is in the middle of a mall. It's a work of magic, looking like nothing much on the outside, but opening up to a lovely, spacious venue inside with a stage framed by fringed curtains and pulls as if from Marikesh.

"It's not just the information age, it's the age of your information," Dr. Ron Henry said in his portion of the Gregory introduction. Bernie Hayes lauded Dick Gregory as "clear, focused, disciplines, analytical...making sense of it all." Hayes quoted Harriet Tubman as saying, "I could've freed even more if I could've convinced them they slaves."

Gregory is a humorist, as much in the tradition of Mark Twain as anyone else I can think of. He is a student of the outrageous, using shock as a teaching tool to bring home truths of moral, economic, and social studies lessons...a preacher with the brief to make sure that even if we leave late, we'll get there on time.


Slavery is over, but we still feel its effects...whether we are black folks or white folks. You cannot wallpaper over a slavery mural and have done with it. Missouri is the state that produced Mark Twain and Harriett Beecher Stowe who produced classic works that combated racism and promoted humanism. Last night Dick Gregory, one of the brightest minds in America and beyond, on stream of consciousness, showed us how to work the floods as the waters to go fishing for the truth that floats downstream to us.

Listening to Gregory was like being at the table in the kitchen late at night when the truth comes out. He told straight jokes ("She must be a lady of substance because she smells like petrol"); he told stories of celebrity friends; he delivered philosophical discourses on beauty and power ("There's a difference between glamor and beauty"); he shared his mind. "There is something on the planet more important than death. That's grace. Take that away and you live in disgrace."

"I love tragedy," Gregory told us. "When it hits you we aren't black or white...just messed up." And he proceeded to lay out the case for just how messed up it was because the conditions of slavery have changed, but the mind hasn't. We have to change our minds. We have to stop being so emotional because that doesn't work. "It's a game" was his refrain.

I was particularly struck by his analysis of addiction: "All addiction is based on pleasure. You are searching for pleasure because in some foul depths of your soul you've done something that requires pleasure to wipe it out." The number 1 addiction in America is gambling. Who you give your money to is who you give your power to. The winners are paid on the losers money. "Sports is sports to chumps and a business to those who own it. Sports is a precursor to of the games people play."

Dick so wants us to understand who we are...the power and wisdom that we have. It's all a matter of holding ourselves with dignity. We will walk THROUGH the storm...not just IN it.

Think about how far we've come. Have fun on the way to the party. And, remember, as Dick says, "They can't take your heart."

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3 Responses »

  1. I like his observation that we are just messed up and that we seek pleasure to wipe out deeper pain. I wasn't familiar with Gregory, and am glad you introduced me to him--in that internet sort of way.


  2. Dick Gregory ran for President in 1968. (I remember, because it was the first election I voted in, with an absentee ballot filled out in Ghana, and after the 1968 Chicago Convention I couldn't vote for Humphrey... so Dick got my vote. I hadn't realized that he is still around, and still making people think.

  3. Wisdom couched in humor is wisdom nonetheless, and in my viewl Dick Gregory's words are wise. When tragedy strikes, we're neither black nor white ... just messed up ... that resonates with me. It reminds me that in the past during times of trouble, the citizens of this nation have bonded to do the impossible. Well, folks, we are in the midst of deep trouble - it is time,,, past time ... for the good folk of this world to pull together. Don't you think so?

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