Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Thursday, August 19, 2004  

Profile: Gamble proves wealth and wisdom can coexist

I've asked myself: If I were rich, would I still be socially conscious? It seems to me that I care about the suffering of the poor and marginalized because I was born into circumstances that made me aware of it. Yet, we've seen how easily someone like Bill Cosby, born into a single parent, low-income home in Philadelphia, can come to mock those less fortunate than himself. I don't think I would perceive significant financial success as an opportunity to look down on others. But, since I will likely never be rich, I guess I will never know the answer to the question. Kenneth Gamble, a Philadelphian like Cosby, has had the experiences of the very successful and is just as dedicated to social change as he was before the money poured in. I have recently read about Gamble (pictured) in regard to the heydey of the company he helped found, Philadelphia International Records. During the 1970s, PRI was the most successful producer of soul music, competing with and eventually displacing Motown. Gamble and his partners made millions.

More recently, the entrepreneur appeared in the news because of one of the many socially conscious records he produced for PRI artists.

Wake up everybody, no more sleeping in bed
No more backward thinking, time for thinking ahead
The world has changed so very much
From what it used to be
There is so much hatred, war and poverty.

It was 1975 when Teddy Pendergrass sang the words of "Wake Up Everybody" in a studio at Philadelphia International Records on South Broad Street.

"It's even a better message today," says Kenny Gamble, cofounder of Philly International, who helped produce the Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' classic written by Gene McFadden, John Whitehead and Victor Carstarphen.

That's what some activists/entrepreneurs, including Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds and Russell Simmons, think.

Last month, they gathered a slew of rap, hip-hop and R&B stars in New York and Los Angeles to rerecord the song as a fund-raiser for America Coming Together, a Democratic-leaning, get-out-the-vote group active in 17 swing states, including Pennsylvania. Among singers are the Philly-rooted Eve, Floetry, and Musiq, as well as Missy Elliot, Jamie Foxx, Jadakiss, Fabolous, Jaheim, Faith Evans and Wyclef Jean.

The song will hit radio stations Monday, and a CD/DVD set -- including songs such as "What's Goin' On?" by Marvin Gaye and "Freedom" by Jurassic 5, and video of the recording session -- will be in stores Sept. 16.

Gamble, who recently heard about the project, called it a "good idea. America needs to wake up."

In addition to producing songs with sense, Gamble was known for penning tunes that were about more than shaking your behind, including McFadden & Whitehead's "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now." His reputation as the conscience of Philadelphia has continued long past the acme of his financial success. Freedom Magazine published an indepth account of Gamble's post-PRI endeavors.

His pivotal contributions to the world of music include creating, with his partner, Leon A. Huff, “the Sound of Philadelphia,” expressing the ideas and feelings of African Americans while delivering a message to everyone to stand up for what is right.

Today, he is a two-time Grammy Award winner, his hits including “Expressway to Your Heart,” “Love Train,” “Me and Mrs. Jones,” and “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.”

And although he has achieved fortune and worldwide fame, Kenneth Gamble remains connected with his roots, signaling that commitment by moving with his wife in the early 1990s from the affluent suburbs back to the inner city neighborhood in South Philadelphia to help rebuild the community where he was born in 1943.

However, Gamble's dedication to the principles he has preached in his songs is not limited to moving to a community inhabited by the folks Bill Cosby sneers at. Gamble believes that any real improvement of urban environments requires hands-on participation and resources. Gamble brought his money, as well as his body, back to the the old neighborhood.

“In our urban regions,” he said, “we are developing separate and unequal societies. The disparity between the wealthy and the poor has become disastrous. We see centers of affluence and centers of poverty, centers of excellence and centers of despair. Urban America has become a ‘vacant community’ inhabited by America’s poorest citizens.”

Deciding he had to do something to reverse the trend and improve conditions, he began to purchase run-down houses in the 1970s, beginning with his childhood home.

He believes that one cannot revitalize a community without effective “hands-on” management. And so it was that, after acquiring more than 100 abandoned houses in his old neighborhood, Gamble moved back in with his sleeves rolled up.

As part of his visionary revitalization effort, Gamble founded Universal Companies, a nonprofit organization. Under its umbrella he established a workforce development center offering adult education and job training to anyone at any skill level, a construction company to provide training and jobs, a business support center with resources and technical assistance, and other entities, all aimed at empowering the inner city and its residents.

Gamble's fruitful efforts have been recognized with awards and plaques, and he has testified before Congress. But, the achievement he may be proudest of is establishing a successful charter school in the community he is revitalizing. It is the kind of 'seed project' that will bear the most meaningful fruit. Kenneth Gamble is proof that two kinds of riches -- financial and ethical -- can coexist in the same person.

Reasonably related

Read about the revival of "Wake Up Everybody" as a campaign anthem at Mac-a-ro-nies.

Learn more about Kenneth Gamble.

posted by J. | 1:40 PM

Wednesday, August 18, 2004  

Commentary: Ellison exposes black CON-servatives

I don't often find myself nodding in agreement as I read the thoughts of conservatives of color. But, I did just that while reading an article C. D. Ellison wrote for Salon in 1998. In it, he described why he did not find common cause with many other black conservatives. Ellison was responding to one of the 'Negroes, this is how you are supposed to behave. . .because I said so' diatribes racist writer David Horowitz spits out from time to time.

David Horowitz's patronizing portrayal of the black community in "Baa baa black sheep" suffers from a few misconceptions. First, the GOP is not concerned about what it can do for African-Americans; it is most concerned with what African-Americans can do for the GOP. But since the Republican Party is primarily composed of white people who can only know so much about black people, naturally they feel that simply throwing a black face before a national audience will attract black people, and more importantly, black votes. So they rely on the self-anointed "black right": lost black souls and "Sambos" of the right -- people I call black "CON-servatives" -- who have become Horowitz's chief sources of black wisdom about the party.

The GOP's shameless, futile reliance on such noted comedians of the right as Armstrong Williams, Alan Keyes, Ward Connerly, Ken Hamblin, Larry Elder and others has made them by default the black face of the Republican Party. One critical reason black people have not turned to the GOP is the devastatingly Uncle Tommish, shoe-shining, sorrowful image of the black CON-servative. Black people are sickened by their hypocrisy. They travel in small, exclusive packs of opportunists who enjoy being little black fish in a sparkling white pond, spreading vicious, vitriolic and uninspiring anti-black rhetoric (such as the title of Horowitz's column) that does little good, if any good be found.

. . .Contrary to the beliefs espoused by black conservatives beloved by Horowitz, African-Americans have the resources, the ability, the competence, spirit and independence to exercise a considerable degree of power into the next century. The strategy is very straightforward and simple: We must make informed, calculated and rational political decisions. That is the true essence of being a conservative. But Horowitz and his get-fresh crew of black conservative scam artists wouldn't know about that.

Ellison has exposed the black conservative movement for what it largely is -- a group of opportunists, of very limited ability, out to attract attention and a few bucks by clowning for Right Wing white people. As he says, it is a CON. The persons involved usually know that they are misrepresenting African-Americans in order to bask in the Right Wing spotlight. (However, some, including Jesse Lee Peterson, are too stupid to have even self-knowledge, I suspect.) The benefits they derive from the con game are attention and money. Much of what passes for black voices on the right is actually scripted, set up and paid for by far Right foundations, including Olin and Bradley. When cornered and questioned, a black CON-servative will tell you that he is just "gettin,' paid," and besides, the persons being conned are white, so there is no harm to African-Americans from the behavior. If only that were so. The ongoing minstrel show provided by people like Keyes and Peterson distracts attention from real efforts to confront the problems of the poor and minority Americans. It also provides white America with blame the victim excuses for inaction.

The latest act in the Black CON-servative Revue is Alan Keyes' relocation to Illinois so that he can run against Democrat Barack Obama for the Senate. Keyes' goal is a battle royale -- a fight between blacks set up by slaveowners in the ante-bellum South. The slaves would slug it out, bare-fisted, until one of them collapsed or was killed. The battle royale was considered excellent entertainment by many whites, as lynching would be later. However, the underpinnings of this show are obviously shabby. There is no reason whatsoever for Keyes to run for office in Illinois, other than attempting to embarass Obama. The white Republicans backing him reveal their racism and moral bankruptcy by encouraging him to revive the slavish practice of the battle royale.

I don't predict an end to the behavior Ellison describes. To people of limited ability and means, playing the role of modern day slave looks like easy money. And, never underestimate what people will do for approval. There were many slaves who reported plans for uprisings. Their tattling resulted in whippings and the executions of other slaves, some of them family and friends. Their reward? Often little more than their masters' approval.

What's the art?

A slave's scarred back.

Reasonably related

C.D. Ellison hosts The Ellison Report on Baltimore’s WEAA 88.9FM.

posted by J. | 2:00 PM

Tuesday, August 17, 2004  

Analysis: McGreevey caught in down-low spotlight

Jan Herman has anticipated some of what I have to say about the not so mysterious case of the gay governor. We've discussed the down-low -- gay and bisexual men who pretend to be straight and have sex with unprotected women -- several times at Silver Rights. The situation has received attention as something that occurs in the African-American part of the population. Much of America is still so benighted it does not realize that if behavior occurs in the black, Asian or Hispanic populations, it likely occurs in the white population, too. (Notice that when white college students riot, it is callled having too much to drink or high spirits.) Repeat after me: People are more alike than different. Herman realizes that McGreevey has brought the down-low out of the closet for white Americans.

A friend writes:

My own Golan Cipel has kept me in stitches for the last 35 years. Over breakfast he alluded to the Newsweek article on Jim McGreevey, "Gov. McGreevey's affair to forget." He said it should have been subtitled: "The Down Low -- It's Not Just a Black Thing Anymore." [See the Down low blues or J.L. King's "On the Down Low."]

By the way, the first "standing [different strokes] governor" to come out of the closet is not McGreevey, but WAS Lord Cornberry, Governor of East and West Jersey and New York, circa late 1600s. A major flamer. Used to run around the mansion in drag all day. My late friend, the actor Anthony Holland, and playwright Bill Hoffman even wrote a play about him. I saw a staged reading of it at New York's Public Theatre, slightly before the invention of moveable type.

Okay . . . if you want to get technical about it, we were STILL the colonies, and Cornberry was never actually IN the closet. But as the young folk say, attention should be paid.

Which says it all.

Herman is on target. I'm sure that down-low fellows can be found in every ethnic group in America. Some commentators are saying minority men are more likely to keep their homosexuality or bisexuality hidden because they have more to lose. I am not so sure about that. Since white men still dominate the higher echelons of employment and wealth, arguably, they have more at stake when it comes to coming clean about who they are spending time between the sheets with. Consider McGreevey. It is doubtful that he could have been elected governor of New Jersey if he were not white. Can an African-American be elected mayor of Atlantic City? Certainly. Along with the indictment that often follows. But, not governor of the state.

McGreevey fits the down-low profile to a T, including the proof of unprotected sex with women -- children. However, I believe that to focus on his homosexuality may be falling for a smokescreen. It distracts people from other evidence of the governor's dishonesty. I'll have more to say about that in a later entry.

posted by J. | 11:45 PM