On August 19, 2017, the world lost a civil rights activist, social critic, and comedian. Dick Gregory was a stand-up comedian who insulted all forms of racism during the 1960s. In the midst of heightened racial tension, protest, and the struggle for civil rights, Gregory provided entertainment, relief, and a smile for African American people. Gregory is noted for using his platform to protest against the Vietnam War, economic reform, and voter registration discrimination. As an advocate for animal rights and a vegan/vegetarian diet, Gregory partnered with Dr. Cornel West in writing letters on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to Kentucky Fried Chicken’s (KFC) CEO, asking that the company revise their animal-handling procedures. As an entrepreneur, he founded Health Enterprises, Inc., a company that provided weight loss products. Through this venture, Gregory helped African Americans become aware of the negative effects that poor nutrition, drugs, and alcohol abuse have on one’s health. When Dick Gregory passed away, there were many pictures of him with profound statements that were attributed to him. One that stood out to me printed his most noted statement: “One of the things I keep learning is that the secret of being happy is doing things for other people.”
In the wake of prophetic leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Angela Davis, and the like, who used their authoritative voice to speak truth to power similar to a traditional preacher, Dick Gregory used humor to provide consolation to the oppressed while advocating social change in the face of white terrorism. Gregory helped African people smile and laugh in the midst of their struggle. Gregory demonstrated that one can use their natural gifts to help society cope with its reality while making this world a better place. Gregory is teaching us to give what we have as a gift that goes beyond ourselves, to the world.
The late Dr. Myles Monroe once said that the richest place in the world is the cemetery. Reason being is because so many people have died without offering to the world the gifts that were within them. The goal of life is to die empty and to not rob the world of the greatness that lives within us. I imagine that Dick Gregory died empty, giving the world everything he had. As a result, he is a model for us to commit our lives to dying empty. As Dick Gregory laid on his deathbed in Washington, D.C., surrounded by family and friends, the only thing he had left to do was die. May we live in such a way that when we are lying on our death bed, the only thing we have left to do is die. May we help the world smile in the midst of their daily struggles.