Among other titles, Dick Gregory was introduced as a "comedian, activist, nutritionist, actor and philosopher" before his talk at Waldran Auditorium on the University of Central Arkansas campus Thursday night.
He certainly demonstrated all of those skills.
The 67-year-old Gregory has commanded America's attention in many ways over the past few decades, and did so to a group of about 50 as part of UCA's Black History Month celebration, sponsored by the Students for the Propagation of Black Culture. He gained notoriety as a figurehead of the American civil rights movement, and since then he has been an outspoken critic of the government, a fierce anti-drug campaigner and a relentless pursuer of better race relations.
Gregory began with some thoughtful, lighter humor, taking some jabs at infamous celebrities like Michael Jackson and O. J. Simpson.
"Michael Jackson's a great example," he said. "Where else but in America can a poor black boy from Gary, Indiana, grow up to be a rich white man?"
But he quickly turned solemn, talking about injustice, corruption and discrimination. Gregory said the youth are consistently being targeted, and usually unfairly.
"Every four seconds, a woman is beaten by her husband or boyfriend," he remarked. "Do you think it's teen-agers doing that?"
Gregory talked openly and passionately about persecution, and when he referred to the popular conservative credo "family values," he spoke with contempt.
"That's the biggest joke on the planet -- family values. When did we ever have family values?" He noted injustices against and persecution of Jews, Italian- and Asian-Americans, Latinos, Africans and others throughout American history and opined, "We are closer to family values now than we ever have been in America."
His outspokenness is well-documented, and it has not always been well-received. Gregory has been jailed numerous times for his nonviolent protests, which have often included hunger strikes. He denounced a number of institutions -- including welfare and capital punishment -- as corrupt, and said freedom in America is dependent on currency.
"One thing about America, you know your place," Gregory said. "You know who you can mess with, and you know who you can't mess with. This country ain't about rights, it's about money."
Gregory called American society "racist," "sexist" and "animalistic," and said any optimism about its future must be tempered. Often during his discourse he would shake his head with seeming resignation and simply ask the rhetorical question, "The games, the games, the games -- how long?"
But he offered some final words of hope, encouraging the crowd of mostly college-age individuals to continue efforts at equality and purity.
"I do not believe we have gone past the point of no return," Gregory said. "But I believe we're fast getting there."
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