Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts continues to stir up controversy. The latest news that has everyone on social media talking is Butts’ strange engagement with this writer last week.
It was a week ago that I assisted Karla Gordy Bristol, the niece of legendary Motown founder Berry Gordy, with ceremonies designating an honorary intersection in Hollywood at Sunset Boulevard and Argyle Avenue in his honor.
My involvement with honoring African-American icons in our community is nothing new. I was taught by my mentors that black activists should always remember and appreciate the elders. If possible, our icons should be immortalized in this city with a permanent tribute.
That’s why over the past 20 years I have helped play a role to ensure there is Malcolm X Way, Imam Abdul Karim Hasan Square, Reverend Cecil “Chip” Murray Circle, Nipsy Hussle Square and now a Berry Gordy Square. I strongly believe we should publicly recognize those that have served our community with dignity.
So, I reminded Butts on social media of a request, I made of him several years ago that he honor Stevie Wonder with an honorary street outside the offices of KJLH Radio, which Wonder has owned for decades. It shouldn’t have been a big deal.
Butts easily could have said he would reconsider it. And the issue would have been over immediately. Instead Butts’ criticism of me for daring to want to honor Wonder, who is a legendary activist, philanthropist and musical genius, is unbelievable.
These are Butts’ exact words posted to my response of him honoring Wonder on Facebook.
“Najee Ali – You’re very disingenuous. We have never had a substantive discussion about this topic. Secondly, it’s not your place to advocate or decide such issues. Aren’t you a Los Angeles resident? Go lobby your mayor and stop tagging me. For the record, I have great respect for Stevie Wonder and grew up with his music. Inglewood will decide when and what is an appropriate tribute to this icon.”
That is the public response I received from Butts concerning Wonder, who in my opinion is one of the greatest and humblest human beings to ever walk on the face of the earth. Not only has he blessed humanity with a God-given talent of music, his activism and philanthropy have been demonstrated, known and appreciated nationwide for decades.
If anyone is worthy of an honorary street in Inglewood it’s Wonder. Mayor Butts, let me remind you of the exact conversation we had years ago concerning my request to have Wonder honored. You responded that you would not consider honoring Wonder in that manner until he died.
I didn’t debate or argue. You’re the mayor. Whatever you say goes. I said thank you for considering my request and left. There was no need for a substantive conversation because you just told me no you wouldn’t to my face.
On Nov. 25, I had the honor of being in attendance with Wonder at the Berry Gordy Square dedication in Hollywood which Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell sponsored. I sat next to Wonder for a spell at the ceremony and spoke to him.
He was visibly moved with emotion at the honor Gordy was receiving. He even thanked me for helping with it and asked me to call him. As I helped walk Wonder to his driver, I was more determined that Wonder, like Berry should be given his flowers on earth while he’s living as opposed to when he’s dead.
That’s why I asked Mayor Butts publicly to re-consider honoring Wonder in Inglewood outside of KJLH Radio with an honorary street. And why not? I’ve heard you on the KJLH airwaves numerous times over the years responding to and trying to explain yourself in controversial issues you became entangled with.
Wonder’s station has also sponsored numerous city events on your behalf. Every time Wonder is at a public event, you’re at in Inglewood you make sure you get a photo-op with him, but you refuse to honor Wonder while he’s still living.
The fact that I live in Los Angeles and not Inglewood is the silliest thing I’ve ever heard of. I don’t need to live in Inglewood to lobby for Wonder. I’ve advocated on behalf of people across Southern California and nationally when needed. Rapper Snoop Dogg is from Long Beach but that didn’t stop you from having him with you at the turkey giveaway in Inglewood.
Wonder advocated for a historic federal holiday for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and didn’t live in Washington D.C. Wonder was recognized by President Barack Obama with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor in the nation. Why should our community have to wait for you to honor Wonder when he’s dead?
Inglewood residents and stakeholders are already responding on social media asking that you honor Wonder while he’s living. Councilman O’Farrell said yes immediately in the hallways of Los Angeles City Hall when asked to honor Berry Gordy because he understood the importance of honoring a legend while he’s alive. What a difference in true leadership.
Butts, on the other hand, says Wonder is an icon but refuses to treat him as one, choosing instead to possibly honor Wonder only after he dies.
The good thing about me is I never quit. I always bet on myself to get something done for my community. Wonder is going to be honored in 2020 in Los Angeles with something very significant and permanent. Having friends and relationships in high places always helps.
I’ve yet to hear anyone in a political office say, “Don’t honor me for my work or service to my community until I’m dead.”
For news tips, email Brothernajeeali@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter@Najeeali.