Comedian and social activist Dick Gregory mixed humor with tribute when he celebrated the progress of blacks Tuesday night at the student-sponsored Black History Celebration.
The pioneering black comedian is known for reaching both black and white audiences since the 1960s. He has also authored a best-selling autobiography, “Nigger,” and a nutrition book, “Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat.”
Gregory delivered the keynote address at the celebration, which was part of a series of events to recognize Black History Month. The Black Student Union organized the free event, which brought more than 80 students, staff and community members to the Marvin Center Ballroom.
“We wanted someone who participated in and experienced the civil rights movement of the 1960s and, in this case, could articulate those experiences to his audience through comedy,” BSU public relations director Aida Taye said. “We wanted the GWU community to see that Dick Gregory is a unique and complex man and thus a role model for everyone, no matter the color of their skin.”
Booking Gregory, who gives more than 150 speeches each year, “was not any easy task,” Taye said. The BSU was able to fund the events with help from the Multicultural Student Services Center and the Student Association.
After attendees entered the room to the sounds of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, BSU’s Second Vice President, Christina Vickers, introduced the guest of honor. She described the organization’s theme for Black History Month, “Black Is,” as “the fiercest statement one can make, because no two persons have the same concept of what black is.”
“Dick Gregory has taught us that black is struggle; black is comedy; black is fighting for what is right; black is eating good; black is feeling good, and black is dieting after you’ve eaten good,” Vickers said.
Gregory entertained the audience with a series of anecdotes that covered everything from Mardi Gras to Groundhog Day, from Osama bin Laden to erectile dysfunction pills and his preference for Greyhound buses over airlines.
But the more serious part of Gregory’s speech focused on the “game” he witnesses in society and a desire among blacks to be “validated.”
“We have come a long way, just enjoy yourself. Look at Black History Month and realize that a handful of people were able to do these things,” Gregory said.
His dialogue included his definition of racism as “the ability to control someone else’s fate and destiny.”
Radio personality Mark Thompson, host of the XM Satellite Radio program “The Power,” attended the event and said Gregory is a frequent guest on his show.
He said, “Dick always shares things to wake us up. During Black History Month, that’s so important.”