Eastern Michigan University

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Keynote Speaker: Dick Gregory

Civil Rights Leader and Comedy Entrepreneur


MLK Keynote Speaker - Dick GregoryDick Gregory is a brilliant comedian, leading civil and human rights activist, well-received author of 15 books, recording artist with seven records, television and film personality, leading nutritionist, veteran, of over 100 fasts, and man totally committed to non-violent social change. For the past 42 years, the Gregory family has made sacrifice after sacrifice for the Civil Rights Movement.  No biography of Gregory would be complete without mentioning that he and his beloved wife, Lil, had ten kids who have become highly respected members of the national community in a variety of fields. They are: Michele, Lynne, Pamela, Paula, Stephanie (aka Xenobia), Gregory, Christian, Miss, Ayanna and Yohance.  The Gregory's had one child who died at birth but they have shared 49 years of historic moments, selfless dedication and tremendous personal love.

Mr. Gregory's contemporaries included Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, President John F. Kennedy, and Bobby Kennedy. Being one of the few Movement leaders from the 1960s still alive, Mr. Gregory is literally a walking history book. In the spirit of the African oral tradition, brought to America in 1619 when the first enslaved Africans arrived in the colonies, Mr. Gregory speaks the truth about racism, sexism, and violence in America. One thing is certain about a Dick Gregory lecture; you are going to hear that which is not spoken elsewhere. Mr. Gregory's candor, combined with his world-class political satire and humor, makes him one of the most highly sought lecturers on the college circuit year after year. Like the prophets of old, Mr. Gregory has become the conscience of America, who has come to cleanse this country's soul of racism and the vestiges of slavery.

Born on October 12, 1932, in St. Louis, MO, Mr. Gregory attended Sumner High School where he became a track star and President of his senior class. And it was at Sumner that his activism began when he was denied the Missouri State Mile Championship Title in 1951 because he was Black. As one of the fastest milers in the country, he received over 100 track scholarship offers from various universities. In the end he chose Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC). In his sophomore year at SIUC, Mr. Gregory became captain of the track team and broke the university's record for the half mile. Along with his athletic achievements, his activism continued at SIUC. Mr. Gregory sparked Black students to rally against the University's "White only" policy for the Offing Athlete Award and segregated seating in Carbondale's only movie theater. In 1953, segregated seating at the local movie theater ended forever, and Dick became the' first Black student to receive the Outstanding Athlete Award. In 1956, Mr. Gregory bridged the gap between White and Black students, and led a successful student campaign to fund the construction of a new student union. The university's student center, still the largest student union (without a hotel) in the country, is a permanent example of his ability to mobilize support for progressive causes. A more important testament to his and the Black students he mobilized during the 1950s is the impact their actions had on changing the character and direction of a major university. Today, SIUC consistently ranks in the top ten among the country's predominately White educational institutions in the total number of baccalaureate degrees awarded to Black Students.

Winning two talent shows as a comic during a two-year hitch in the Army set the stage for the next big turning points in Mr. Gregory's life. Early success as a comedian on the Chicago nightclub circuit brought him to the most important event in his life; meeting his future wife, Lillian Smith. They married in 1959 and soon their first child, Michele, was born. Next came his big break at Chicago's Playboy Club and Mr. Gregory became the first Black comedian to work in first-line line White night clubs and on national television. His fame in show business brought calls from Medgar Evers and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to help the growing Civil Rights Movement. He participated in almost all of the major and minor marches, demonstrations, and rallies of the Civil Rights era. Mr. Gregory spoke at marches, voter registration rallies, and benefit shows for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1963, he chartered a plane, and then collected and delivered 14,000 pounds of free food for poor people in two counties in Mississippi.

Dr. King and Mr. Gregory were often jailed together as they demonstrated for civil rights in the 1960s, and at Dr. Kings urging Mr. Gregory became increasingly involved with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's (SCLC) efforts to bring freedom, justice, and equality to all Black people in America. As a result of his activism, his career suffered. Not many people would give up a million dollars a years salary as Mr. Gregory did. However, Dr. King taught Mr. Gregory a higher principle, the philosophy of non-violence, which he follows to this day.

Using humor and satire to make his points, Mr. Gregory has authored 15 books on subjects including the plight of Black people in America, health and nutrition, and commentaries on American politics, history, government, and culture. His books include, Nigger, From The Back of The Bus, What's Happening, Write Me In! Dick Gregory's Political Primer, The Shadow That Scares Me, No More Lies: The Myth and Reality of American History, Dick Gregory's Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin' With Mother Nature, and Dick Gregory's Bible Tales. Mr. Gregory has also co-authored with Mark Lane, a serious book on the life and death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., titled Code Name Zorro: The Murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. Many of Mr. Gregory's books have sold over a million copies, and his latest book, Callus On My Soul: A Memoir, with Shelia Moses, is destined to be his biggest seller yet. Mr. Gregory's humorous social commentaries on American culture have also reached millions of people through seven talk recordings. In another first, one of his talk records sold over one million copies becoming the first platinum talk record.

By 1967, Mr. Gregory's involvements with social causes had expanded to include the civil rights movement, the human rights movement, and the peace movement. Following the example of Mahatma Ghandi, Mr. Gregory first fasted, consuming only distilled water for 40 days, to protest the Vietnam War. Since that first fast in 1967, Mr. Gregory has fasted over 100 times, often to call attention to important social problems. For example, he fasted for 45 days in Olympia, WA, while in jail for demonstrating in support of Native American fishing rights. In 1969, he fasted for 45 days in the Cook County Jail in Illinois after being imprisoned for protesting de facto segregation in the Chicago Public School system. To call attention to the problem of drug addiction in America, he consumed only water' for 81 days in 1970. In another protest against the killing in Indochina, he ate no solid food from April 24, 1971 until the Vietnam War ended. Mr. Gregory and his wife Lillian helped expose the My Lai Massacre during which American soldiers were filmed killing innocent civilians during the Vietnam War. In 1980, he went to Iran during the hostage crisis to fast, consuming only water for 100 days, and pray for a non-violent resolution to the situation. Ayatollah Khomeini met with him and later thanked him for his vigil. Upon leaving Iran, the Ayatollah's personal secretary asked Mr. Gregory to deliver a message to President Jimmy Carter. The message informed President Carter that the remaining hostages would be freed during President Regan's inauguration.

Not unlike Dr. King or Ghandi, Mr. Gregory is destined to be remembered as a non-violent man totally committed to his causes. He uses fasting, prayer, and other peaceful means to stir our conscience and move our hearts to recognize the dignity and divinity of every human being. He continues to use all his talents and resources to improve the plight of the poor, the needy, the hungry, and the less fortunate among us. Although Mr. Gregory continues to use fasting and prayer to call us to respond to human suffering, he is also researching and implementing his own concrete solutions to four difficult social problems; world hunger, drug addiction, the relatively poor health of Black America, and the low economic status of Black America.

In the area of global hunger, Mr. Gregory spent over a million dollars researching a nutritional solution. Starting in 1974, he developed the 4X Formula, a nutritional formula that requires no cooking or refrigeration. To call attention to world hunger, Mr. Gregory ran form Los Angeles to New York City in 1976, averaging 50 miles per day for 71 days. During this time, he consumed only his 4X Formula. In 1981, he sponsored research on the effects of starvation on the human body by having doctors monitor his body during a 70 day fast in New Orleans. After starving himself for these 70 days, Mr. Gregory consumed only 4X Formula and proceeded to run and walk the 80 miles to Baton Rouge, LA, against his doctors' advice. He did this to prove to the world's health community that a starving person needs nutrition more than food.

Responding to the famine in East Africa in 1985, Mr. Gregory made numerous trips to Ethiopia and other African countries donating over 2,600 pounds of his 4X Formula. Not only did his actions reduce the cost of rehabilitating a starving child in Ethiopia from $4.00 to 45 cents per day, but the children taking the 4X Formula showed such marked improvement that the Ethiopian government made the formula available throughout all of the country's rehabilitation centers. After seeing first hand the human suffering and death caused by famine, Mr. Gregory vowed to make his formula available to all the world's hungry people. He then fasted, consuming only water, for an incredible 167 days, to again call upon America and the world to do more to end the suffering of the hungry.

The importance of Mr. Gregory's 4X Formula should not' be underestimated. In economic terms, major corporations have offered him up to $90 million for it. Mr. Gregory has turned down these offers and instead wants to use the economic value of his formula based products to significantly improve the wealth of Black Americans. To this end, Mr. Gregory established Dick Gregory Health Enterprises, Inc., to insure that Black people were the first instead of the last to receive the economic and health benefits of his products. In 1985, the SCLC awarded Mr. Gregory the "Drum Major for Justice" Award for Black business and economic development. Significantly, Mr. Gregory received this award for the tremendous economic benefits that Black people accrued in less than one year by distributing his first 4X Formula-based product, Dick Gregory's Slim Safe Bahamian Diet.

Mr. Gregory is an outspoken critic of America's drug problem. He personally gave up smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol in 1968 in favor of a healthier lifestyle. In 1973, to protest alcohol abuse, he lost millions of dollars in future income by refusing to perform as a comedian in any nightclub that serves alcohol. His research into nutrition and the effects of starvation on the human body also led to the development of a nutritional solution to drug addiction. In 1986, he introduced, again based upon the 4X Formula, the Correction Connection, a product that reduces an addict's craving for drugs. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Father George Clements, Mr. Reggie Toran, and Mr. Gregory demonstrated in drug infested neighborhoods across the country to stop the open drug dealing being blatantly ignored by local, state, and federal policing agencies. During a protest in 1996, Mr. Gregory was arrested on the steps of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in Washington, DC: His actions were designed to call attention to the DEA's failure to stop at least one billion dollars worth of known cocaine shipments into the inner cities from outside US. borders during the 1980s.

Mr. Gregory was born and raised in extreme poverty in a fatherless home. After breaking out of the cycle of poverty that continues to enslave many, he has not forgotten those still trapped. The poor, the needy, and the disregarded still call on him for help, knowing that he always responds. Mr. Gregory answers the calls of such leaders as Martin Luther King, III, Rev. Al Sharpton, and Minister Louis Farrakan. He still gives up over a million dollars annually in lost bookings to have the time to protest drug dealing, racial profiling, and police brutality, among other human rights causes. Mr. Gregory is here to protest the horrible killings by police officers of young innocent Black women and men like Tyisha Miller, LaTanya Haggerty, and Amadou Diallo, and the tragic police beatings of Rodney King and Abner Louima. However, much of what he has done will go without notice and reward in this world.

It is only by Divine Intervention and Protection that the many assassination attempts on Mr. Gregory's life have failed. As he says, "The Universal-Order protects me from being killed by this racist system." Four thousand years ago, the Prophet Elijah said, "... the people of Israel have... slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away." (I Kings 19:14) And now, in Mr. Gregory's latest book, Callus On My Soul, he correctly points out that most of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement were killed. He is one of the few left. The closest they came to murdering Mr. Gregory was when they killed his good friend Mike Watley. In a case of mistaken identity, because he was driving Mr. Gregory's car, Mr. Watley was killed in a hit-and-run accident. Suspiciously, there were no witnesses on this busy night in Boston. Whatever they did to kill Mr. Watley, they made sure that every bone in this 300-pound man's body was shattered into pieces.

Mr. Gregory and his family have risked and committed their lives to improving the condition of humanity here and abroad. Never deterred in the face of evil, Gregory stated, "We will march through your dogs! And if you get some elephants, we'll march through them. And bring on your tigers and we'll march through them." He has transcended this world and reached a plateau few persons ever reach. In the Spirit of Elijah and John the Baptist, Mr. Gregory's lecture or act is a once-in-two-thousand-year event. For your soul's sake, it is something you do not want to miss.

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