Sunday, February 22, 2009
At the tail end of Saturday's NAACP 100th anniversary celebration banquet, Sylvia Waldrup-Quarles, president of the Monterey County Branch of the NAACP addressed the approximately 240 attendees: "People kept asking me, 'Is Dick Gregory really coming?' No one believed he was coming until the 19th." That's when the Weekly featured Gregory on the cover, alongside political hot-head comedian Lewis Black. And come he did.
A contingent of locals gathered Saturday at the Seaside office of the NAACP on Broadway in order to pick up Gregory at the airport in a stretch limousine provided by Anthony's Limo Service; the group included Waldrup-Quarles, Monterey County Branch NAACP volunteers Alvin Young, Linda Hickson and Richard Snyder, Herald reporter Dennis Taylor and this Weekly reporter. Before leaving, the greeting party, seated in the plush confines of the limo, bowed their heads in prayer while Parliament's "Flashlight" played on the stereo. En route to the Monterey Peninsula Airport, Waldrup-Quarles recounted a previous trip to the airport in a limo to receive a civil rights activist--Rosa Parks--and acknowledged the hard work of volunteer Edna Myricks, who couldn't attend.
At the airport, the contingent found and surrounded Gregory, peppering him with hearty welcomes. Once inside the limo, Gregory gave an impassioned interview ("When I was growing up, my wife couldn't buy a car without my signature" he said), punctuated by his fiery brand of humor.
In the lobby of Seaside's Embassy Suites hotel, one member of the greeting party demurely commented: "He swears a lot. But I remember when he was huge and fat. He was the first person who made me realize that it's what goes in your body that affects the outcome of your body."
When the greeting party made overly helpful suggestions about getting Mr. Gregory a bottle of water, he laid down the law: "I don't put nothin' in my mouth that I don't know where it came from," he said, citing Coca-Cola's recent lawsuit (settled out of court) over benzene and potassium chloride levels in some of their beverages.
Another honoree of the night included Hebard Robert Olsen, who received the President's Award for his tireless efforts to videotape and broadcast local civic and artistic events on AMP (Access Monterey Peninsula) public access channel 24, which, according to the 100th birthday anniversary program, are "rarely seen on commercial TV, and never in any depth."
"I just turn the camera on," said the animated videographer, "and you see, you hear, you decide what to think. It's valuable for me to see the world as a Vietnamese person, as an African-American person, as a Polish person. Because they don't have the same experience as I do. And I'm interested in the clash of ideas."
A former science teacher at Seaside High School (including for this reporter), he videotaped the evening's proceedings, zipping from his chair on the elevated stage's dais to a camera in the back several times, and directing two cameramen using green laser lights, an onstage monitor and walkie-talkies. He says he is seeking camera operators to cover Salinas.
Hal Ginsberg received the Spirit of Partnership Award for his progressive and independent talk radio station KRXA 540 AM, which he started in July 2005 with broadcaster Peter B. Collins. Ginsberg's focus ranges from the local to the international, with an emphasis on depth and discourse. The awards program commends his championing of the "voices of the American poor and working class, minorities, gays, seniors, and military families as well as the internationally dispossessed." He encouraged people to call his Morning Show, which airs 8-10am daily, to talk about the NAACP event.
The recipient of the Ties That Bind Award, Leon Panetta, was represented by his wife, Sylvia Panetta, who received three Talbot ties for her husband--figuratively "tying" him to the Monterey Peninsula while he served in Washington DC as CIA Director. Upon mention of their Leon & Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy, the audience applauded enthusiastically, and laughed knowingly when the evening's emcee, Rev. Frederick Anderson, joked: "He's the head of the CIA, and that's okay. He's probably doing background checks on me right now. We're in trouble Mel."
Ben Todd Jealous, the new president of the NAACP (pronounced "N-A-A-C-P," as opposed to the traditional "N-double-A-C-P") did not attend--it was reported in Weekly that he would. His father, Fred Jealous, who is white, did: "I was raised in a part of New England where white superiority was in the air, and it can only damage a person's intelligence to believe in such an insane, inhuman and un-Godly idea. I am so happy to be part of a bigger brotherhood like the NAACP."
Waldrup-Quarles spoke glowingly of Gregory: "When people heard he was coming here, they said it was like a homeboy coming back home, because they remembered his last visit. They remembered the date, the experience of it--"
"'Cuz the check bounced," chuckled Gregory. During his vigorous speech, which mixed indignation, pathos and humor, and came across like a heated Baptist preacher, Gregory told the story of an older man who complained "'When I was young, you didn't have to lock your door,'" to which Gregory responded, "You didn't have nothin!"
"Black History Month--you older folks remember--used to be called Negro History Week. Then they gave us February. Shortest month of the year."
"When I was growing up, we didn't have Safeway. We had fruit stands, some of them pulled by horses."
"The mightiest nation in the world was brought to its knees by people with no guns. People not willing to kill, but willing to die." To encourage resolve in the historic struggle for rights and equality, he exhorted: "This thing is big. And moving fast."
Throughout his speech, which, ranged from conspiracy theory to history to comedy to all things black ("Negro," he would say at times), the audience was rapt, responsive, and laughed often. And he repeated the refrain: "Thank you, NAACP. " It became the de facto theme for the night.
Other highlights included Marina Mayor Bruce Delgado standing on a chair and loudly proclaiming: "Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye!" as he introduced the individuals at his table, and dignitaries like Seaside City Councilman Ian Ogelsby who presented Gregory with a seahorse pin, local activist Helen Rucker, former Seaside mayor Lance McClaire, county supervisor Jane Parker, and a who's who of others.
Twenty-four round tables were set for 10 people each, by groups like the Monterey Peninsula College, the JROTC, the UFCW union, and City of Seaside councilmembers. One table was seated with pre-teen and teen members of the young NAACP, who were dressed immaculately and added a youthful zeal to the evening, which was dominated by elder community members and dignitaries. During the a cappella group song at the end of the night, "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," some of the kids slyly sang off-key. During that same song, referred to as the Negro Anthem, Gregory was one of the few who did not need to refer to the lyrics written in the program.