The Los Angeles community lost a critical voice this past week.
He wasn’t an entertainer or an athlete, nor a politician or a preacher (though he could preach). He was just a brother with an opinion, an opinion that the community read for nearly 40 years.
Larry Aubry was a respected voice in the discourse of a community constantly in search of solutions while suffering decades of arrested development. His specialty was public education and its persistent failures, but he wrote about other things, like black leadership, black unity and black consciousness. In fact, Larry wasn’t afraid to say “black.”
Opinion writing is a delicate dance, trying to analyze a critical point in society while trying not to offend while being taken seriously. The “commercial writers” stay away from certain topics, like race and racism, the police, white people, gays, the church, poverty pimps … you know the ones. Topics you don’t talk about if you want to get published, or maintain “favorite Negro” status in a city that could “give a damn” about black people.
Larry Aubry didn’t care about status. He cared about equity and justice. He really didn’t care if you liked him or not. All he cared about was that you heard him, and took what he said (or wrote) to heart, which was often counter to what everybody else thought.
Just because it wasn’t popular, doesn’t mean it wasn’t right. The mainstream culture doesn’t care much about being right … and stupidity is popular right now (see 45th U.S. president).
Counter cultural criticism is needed now more than ever, but you won’t see it … because you have to have courage to write it. Larry had that courage.
I haven’t written my weekly column for five years, moving on to digital content and films, and running a think tank at Cal State Dominguez Hills. But I had very special ties to Larry — for nearly 40 years — and I had something to say about his passing. Thank you, Wave, for running this tribute commentary.
In my advocacy time and space, I knew him the longest. When I joined the NAACP in 1982, Larry and I were vice presidents together, in what was the greatest youth movement this local chapter had seen, growing to more than 15,000.
When President John McDonald III, died suddenly in December 1984, the chapter splintered generationally, old heads versus youngsters. Though Larry was nearly 25 years my senior, he sided with the youth — the future, not the past. When I became president in 1988, he was one of my closest advisors, even with the old heads bearing down and planning their subsequent overthrow.
That was our start.
In 1991, I started “Between the Lines,” a weekly counter cultural commentary in the Herald Dispatch. The column became so popular, it took on a life of its own. By 1993, it was running nationwide, including in all four black papers in Los Angeles.
For 15 years, Larry and I ran on the same page in the Los Angeles Sentinel (1993-2008). If Larry and I had 10 conversations, we were going to disagree on four of them. And sometimes, the disagreements were intense.
We just agreed to disagree and moved on. We never got sidetracked. We both agreed that’s a big problem in our community. We fall too much over little stuff.
The big stuff we act like we don’t see — the interlopers, the sellouts, etc. Larry saw it, and he wrote about it. And he talked about it. He loved intellectual discourse.
When the Urban Issues Breakfast Forum began in 1999, Larry was there and he rarely missed a forum in 20 years. He came out to Cal State Dominguez Hills last October to see and hear Michael Eric Dyson. He had recently had a stroke.
Love of the discourse, love of the intellectualism, love of talking about us. And yeah, love of me. He knew if I was behind it, it wasn’t going to be “conversation light.” It’s gonna be “Blackitty black, as the youth say.
He supported me that way, and I supported him too. I’m going to miss our conversations. Rest in peace my brother, but your writings will speak forever.
Now that’s counter cultural.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Mervyn Dymally Institute at Cal State Dominguez Hills, host of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, “A Thousand Times NO To The Status Quo: Selected Counter Cultural Commentaries of A. Asadullah Samad” (1991-2014). He can be reached on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) at @DrAnthonySamad.