Columnists Opinion

Carrying on the legacy of Richard Claxton Gregory

“Stay Woke!” are the words of my best friend, Dick Gregory.

Who in America hasn’t heard of Dick Gregory? I’d known him personally for years before he died recently.

We met in 1986 when U.S. Rep. Mervyn Dymally, a congressman from Los Angeles, invited him to my home state of Louisiana while I was a candidate for the U.S. Congress. Dick spoke at a fundraising event for me and didn’t ask for a dime — not even his airline ticket. That was impressive because other celebrities required all kinds of perks.

After the campaign, I moved to Washington, D.C., and out of the clear blue, he called. He was stranded in Baltimore and needed to get back to D.C. I had a reputation for helping anybody and I figured that turnabout was fair play. I picked him up and after an animated conversation back to D.C., we became friends. Fortunately, that never changed.

He soon became known as my best friend and “running buddy.” We attended many events together, but the term “running buddy” came from the fact that we’d run on every track we could find.

We’d run through Rock Creek Park and tested new health equipment about which we were told. My home is filled with all kinds of exercise and health gadgets. He introduced me to just about every vitamin ever made.

He and I shared a passion for reading. He introduced me to his huge required newspaper and magazine reading. He also bought two of every book he thought worthy of reading. That was a lot!

It was a gesture of friendship, but, because I had every book he had, he benefited by being able to call me during his frequent travels to resource certain information. That proved challenging because his calls often came from other time zones or countries and required me to wake up and search for the information he needed.

My first arrest was in good company — Dick, George Clooney, Martin Luther King III, Ben Jealous and others. As a lawyer, my frequent role was not to go to jail, but to bail him out of jail. As a result, my arrest record for picketing is not nearly as long as his.

Fast forward to 2011 and the British Petroleum Gulf Oil Spill. Unlike big corporations, many underserved people were not getting paid for their losses.

Dick and I immediately joined the cause. A group led by Dr. Arthur Rocker met at my home and we brainstormed solutions.

We made several trips to strickened areas to advise people of their rights and remedies. We picketed BP. We traveled to their corporate headquarters in London, England, seeking relief.

While there, we picketed BP not even knowing British laws related to picketing. We returned to the U.S., met with and picketed more BP offices in the U.S. To date, BP still has not paid poor and marginalized people.

Let us honor Dick Gregory’s memory and all he’s done by practicing the things he taught us. He wanted us to Stay Woke and not believe everything we see. Things aren’t always what they appear to be!

He wanted us to rid ourselves of anger, fear, hatred and jealousy. Love is much more powerful than hate.

I had my last words with him that Saturday night after Lil and his family had said their goodbyes. I promised to carry on his service to our people and finish projects we’d started together.

Carrying Dick’s spirit, I will be returning to the Gulf Coast. I can never fill his shoes, but I promised to do what he would do if he were here. That’s how I will honor my friend, the one and only, Richard Claxton Gregory from whom I learned so much.

Faye Williams is president of the National Congress of Black Women.