By Gloria Dulan-Wilson
How do you put top off an already successful conference that is comprised of some of the sharpest Black Newspaper Publishers and writers ever? It’s not easy. Most of them have seen it all - from the bad, the shabby, the tacky, from racists to criminal, through to the most positive, power, erudite and elegant of experiences. So you have to plan carefully, keeping in mind that your audience is comprised of reporters, photographers, editors, advertising and marketing specialists (sometimes all rolled up in one person).
It is safe to say that Danny Bakewell and those who worked with him to plan this event, not only far exceeded expectations, but left them totally “wowed!”
The NNPA wrapped up its historical 2010 summer convention in New York with an awards ceremony dinner and gala which honored Harlem-based Congressman Charles Rangel and Motown founder and mogul Berry Gordy, who is celebrating Motown’s 50th Anniversary this year.
(50 years??????? That’s amazing, when so many of us can remember as kids dancing to Smokey Robinson’s “Really Got a Hold on Me” and “Mickey’s Monkey” -- but I digress).
From beginning to end the evening was one of congeniality and excitement. Berry Gordy is most definitely a celebrity many speak of in whispers and wonder. He is mythic and legendary in his accomplishments during a time when Blacks were still being relegated to the back of the bus.
No one expected him to be as down to earth, pleasant, approachable, as he was when he walked through the crowd of admirers waiting to be seated at their respective tables. Stopping to shake hands with one, be photographed with another, accepting business cards from yet another. Slim, trim, in an elegant evening suit, you look into those soft brown, smiling eyes and think, “Wow! I’m talking to the great Berry Gordy. This is really fantastic!”
Unlike many celebrities who come in through side doors, not wanting to interact with their admirers, Mr. Gordy took time to really converse with several of the NNPA members and guest, leaving them with an even more wonderful impression of him as a person, as well as a giant in the music industry.
It's hard to encompass so much history in such a short time. Even more difficult to convey the camaraderie that permeated the gala, as we viewed a video stream of the member newspapers that make up the NNPA, and their combined historical contributions to Black Culture.
The program began with Congressman Rangel, who succeeded the great Adam Clayton Powell Jr. in Congress, receiving the first award. The Congressman always has a great smile, no matter what’s going on. "He’s served in Congress for 20 terms," stated a voice over that chronicled a pictorial of his accomplishments. It continued: “His irresistible energy, his self deprecating sense of humor, and his distinctive voice are a legend on Capitol Hill. Even after having served 20 terms, his eyes are on new horizons. The next chapter. The next challenge.”
When Chairman Danny Bakewell presented Congressman Rangel with the award for exemplary courage in the time of need to our community and our nation,” Rangel received a well deserved standing ovation.
Rangel, who is part of the legendary “Gang of Four“, consisting of David Dinkins, Basil Paterson (father of Governor David Paterson) and former Mayor David Dinkins, and the late Percy Ellis Sutton, always makes reference to them in his speeches: “To my brother, David Dinkins who believed in me, we believed in each other and what we set out to do. "
Congressman Rangel also spoke of the legacy of those who had gone before him, including Amsterdam News journalist, the late Jimmy Booker; the Hon. Percy Ellis Sutton. “Some of the people that we’re most proud of are no longer here. Yet the dreams and the aspirations live on. The fact that during our lifetime we were able to get an African American elected; or that we’ve been covering the dreams and aspirations of people around the world, doesn’t mean that our kids are guaranteed a better life, education, and better home. There's still much work to be done. I feel so individually proud to receive this award because I receive it on behalf of so many people!”
Before we go forward, let me tell you a little about the symbology of the Legacy of Excellence Award. It was personally designed by NNPA National Board Chair Danny Bakewell. Not only is it one of the most distinctive, beautiful, and eloquent designs ever; is speaks volumes about the mind, heart and intense love and dedication that Danny Bakewell has for Black” people. The care consideration and artistry that went into the execution of this symbol is both majestic and touching; and at the same time motivational. Who wouldn’t want to be worthy of what that symbol stands for such that they likewise such an honor bestowed on them? Who wouldn’t want to have such a beautiful testimony to their accomplishment prominently displayed in a favored spot for friends, family, associates to see? It’s an incentive to do your utmost to be deemed worthy.
Per Bakewell, when he was coming up with the concept: "It was an American Eagle because it had to be a model of excellence. It had roots around a African drum; the roots are like the grapevine. Someone said like Tarzan? I said, no, grapevine, it’s how we Black people communicated. The drum, how we communicated when we were in Mother Africa. The Eagle is holding a newspaper in his talons; the object is that wherever we need the word; it has a pen in its beak. He carries the truth with him everywhere he goes.” This is the award that was bestowed upon Congressman Charles Rangel and Motown Music Mogul Berry Gordy.
Danny Bakewell’s reverence for Berry Gordy was unmistakable In fact, Bakewell and Gordy may well have what is called a mutual admiration society." Per Bakewell: “I want to bring a new perspective to the people who don’t know Berry Gordy. Yes he is the legendary promoter. He is a man of extraordinary means; he is an exquisite producer; but he is a man who has a heart. He is a man who has a profound sense of family; and a profound sense of tenacity and courage which is what this award is about. He is all that we know about him in the media; but he has all the things that we try to teach our children. He has all the things that we try to emulate to be better parents; to be better brothers and sisters.”
Bakewell recounted Gordy’s many accomplishments: “He brought to the world Smokey Robinson and The Miracles; he brought to the world Diana Ross and the Supremes; he brought to the world Mary Wells; Marvin Gaye, The Marvelettes, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Martha and the Vandellas, Chuck Jackson, The Four Tops, Junior Walker and the All Stars; The Spinners; Tina Marie; the Isley Brothers, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Jackson Five, Ashford and Simpson, Germaine Jackson; Commodores, Ric James, Lionel Ritchie, and the greatest entertainer in the world, Michael Jackson!!!”
After a standing ovation for the memory of King of Pop, who died suddenly a year ago, Bakewell continued: “So if those talents are geniuses, what is Berry Gordy? And he’s still doing the business of setting standards of excellence. And in many instances, despite the fact that he wants to bring us all along with him, he stands as a beacon light for all that we want to become. And as I inscribed in this award, ‘he put through his dreams;’ and that’s what people don’t understand. He puts through his dreams with excellence in mind, refusing to take a substandard; making people around him understand who he is and what he’s trying to do; what he’s trying to get them to understand. Many times people don’t understand what’s in his heart - the passion, the commitment that drives him… Berry Gordy created Motown and the entertainment industry became an entertainment legend. But Motown’s contribution to the world made him and American Icon. And it is for that reason that we love him and we honor him.”
As the voice over narration touted Gordy’s triumphs, image after image of the Motown greats flashed across the screen. “Fortunately for the young people in Detroit who wanted to pursue music Berry Gordy was there and he was the guy who had the dream the struggle could become truth.”
What followed was a musical tribute produced by Bakewell! A fantastic music documentary chronicling all the artists who came through Gordy and achieved greatness in their own right: Diana Ross and the Supremes, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles; Stevie Wonder; the Four Tops, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Martha and the Vandellas, Gladys Knight and the Pips; Jackie Wilson, and on and on, that had the well dressed audience snapping their fingers and clapping in rhythm with the music.
(I want that DVD !! I would definitely play it over and over. It was both spectacular and nostalgic. Most of us could relate to at least one, if not all of the artists who have come thru Motown).
When Danny Bakewell presented Berry Gordy with NNPA Legacy of Excellence Award “for 50 years in the music industry as the founder of, and inspiration behind Motown and some of the most dynamic covey of Black artists ever” Berry Gordy was visibly moved -- both by the magnitude of the award, and the musical tribute itself.
After accepting the award, and gathering his composure, Gordy spoke very softly and humorously: “Incredible! This is a very important night for me for so many reasons. I hope I can convey them to you. So many things were happening to me sitting at my table, I was like writing stuff, scratching it out, writing stuff, scratching it out. And just when I thought it was really great, he said something about excellence, and I said I can’t have it, I gotta go back. So you put me in a lot of trouble.”
As the audience’s laughter subsided, Gordy continued, “The point is that I’m here tonight, and it really is an important night for me. I’m so thrilled to be here with so many of my friends; my fellow honoree, the great Charlie Rangel. Marc Marial President of the National Urban League, which is celebrating 100 years of excellence), David Dinkins, Xernona Clayton and others. And to receive this award from my dear, dear friend, Danny Bakewell is the icing on the cake.
“Danny Bakewell has been an idol of mine for many, many years for his commitment, and devotion to the many causes that he champions. I have never seen him lose. His leadership in some of the roughest situations that I’ve seen, I’ve never seen him fail when he was dealing with the worst of us, in terms of drug addicts, young kids going the wrong way; and he had a way of dealing with that -- giving them jobs, doing things, moving them into areas; teaching them things that they could do; things that they thought they were beneath, he taught them how to be great waiters, great busboys, great computer techs. All of these things I’ve seen him do over and over again. And I’ve never seen him fail. So he’s been one of my champions!
Then, with the quick wit and humor that has obviously sustained him through fifty years of putting together a musical empire, he switched gears: “Okay, Danny, enough about you! I’m going to talk about me. I was 11 years old when I was first introduced to the Black press. I worked for the Michigan Chronicle in Detroit. I thought of myself as a marketing genius; a distribution executive. My friends thought of me as a paper boy. And that was cool! Because I actually sold more papers than anybody else. So one weekend I took my show on the road, downtown to the white folks. I always felt our similarities were so much more powerful than our differences. And I was right. They loved me and they loved the Michigan Chronicle. I sold out in no time. I was in incredible shape. The next week, I took my brother Robert with me. Loaded with papers - we were going to clean up! We sold nothing. Not one. And it seemed to me, one Black kid was cute, but two were a threat to the neighborhood. That was my first real marketing lesson. Later when I started Motown, I didn’t put Black faces on some of the first album covers -- I wanted people to hear the music first. I worked, and once it did the rest was history.
“For me, our Motown 50th celebration was not about me or the Motown Superstars, it was more about the unsung heroes of Motown. The people behind the scenes who gave us love, support, and kept us going. And I’m here tonight to make sure that all of you know that you are a part of Motown’s great family.
“You, the Black Press, not only Detroit, but all over the country, have no idea how much you meant -- what your love meant, and your support meant to me and all of us at Motown at a time when we needed it most. You were there. And it was such a wonderful feeling.
“And, I’m somewhat sentimental, because Danny Bakewell gave me the opportunity to stand here and tell you that, because I never had a chance before. I know you’re here to honor me, and I appreciate that; but tonight I’m here to honor you. And it’s a big thrill for me just to stand here and look at all of you and see your faces and realize how much you meant to us in those early days, when we knew we could always count on you to bring out the truth, and to help us in whatever we were doing. And I didn’t even know some of the people I met tonight; and I thanked them personally, you know, and, uh, the Black Press of America is just awesome to Motown. I always think of you as part of the Motown family. And thank you again for allowing me this opportunity to say, Thank you, thank you, and again, thank you!”
It goes without saying that so many Black businessmen and women have no idea how much the positions they are currently enjoying are because of the vigilence and diligence of the Black press, who at every turn is countering and reversing race-drenched material cooked up by the mainstream media to disparage them. It was indeed gratifying to hear those words from Berry Gordy, who, even through his triumphs, has definitely been besieged with invectives and inuendos. It is even more gratifying to celebrate 50 years of an organization that took the music industry, stood it on its ear and made it bow to his standards.
The balance of the evening included the great Gerald Levert of the OJAYS, who definitely rocked the house and make the NNPA regret not have set up some space for dancing. The guests, especially we New Yorkers, finding it difficult to sit while Levert and his band were turning out so much soul, found spaces where ever we were, and “boogied” to the music (which of course was our way of communicating our appreciation for a wonderful evening and a job well done).
As stated in the previous section, the Black Press started in America 183 years ago. There are many who try to say it is no longer relevant or necessary because of computers or because we now have diversity. However, diversity never has and never will replace the virtue of having and maintaining your own means of communication.
Will Rogers (a personal hero of mine from Oklahoma) once said: “I don’t know much, all I know is what I read in the newspapers.” Well if the newspapers you get your information from are self affirming, pro Black and culturally aware and supportive, you will end up knowing a great deal.
Congratulations to the NNPA for keeping Black People Informed and involved for 183 years. Here's to 183 more.
Stay Blessed &