In My Write Mind

The Epitome of Living Strong: Ossie Davis, A Tribute

*Soundtrack--Long Gone, Guy, The Future*

Shaboo-ya! Sha-Sha-Shaboo-ya/Roll Call
Sha-Sha-Shaboo-ya/Roll Call

My name is Pops
We've reached the top
All this Shaboo-ya
Has got to stop!

That, to me, was the best set of lines uttered during the Spike Lee film chronicling the journey of a caravan of black men to the Million Man March, Get On The Bus. That set of lines being my favorite shouldn't come as a surprise, as they were spoken by Ossie Davis, veteran actor and activist. He wasn't just one of my favorite actors--he was one of my favorite people.

Shortly after condemning the Shaboo-ya in the film, Davis' character died. It was a sad scene, just like today is a sad scene for Black America. That's irony. What's also ironic is that Davis, at 87, was still living strong, and in fact died early Friday morning while on location for his latest film, Retirement.

Something he never thought of doing.

What's not ironic is that he died during Black History Month, especially since he is linked to most of the history that we as Blacks hold so dear. His contributions to the civil rights movement are legendary, working ever so closely with Martin Luther King, Jr. to ensure equality and racial justice. He, along with his beautiful wife Ruby Dee, served as master of ceremonies for the historic March on Washington in 1963. He so eloquently eulogized Malcolm at his funeral, his words sending chills up and down the spines of all within earshot. They were arrested for protesting the murder of Amadou Diallo, they sued the federal courts for black voting rights, they spoke out in support of sickle cell research.

They ARE Black History.

And that's why I love Ossie. Was he perfect? Hellus nous. But he was perfectly imperfect. A man's man. He was never an African American. He was a Negro at birth, a black man at death. He was the epitome of another Spike Lee film, always seemingly doing the right thing. His penchant for working with Lee lent many of the films credibility, made them watchable. Whether he played a drunkard named Da Mayor, a father to Wesley Snipes in Jungle Fever or Pops in "...Bus," you knew what you were getting from Davis with each film--consistency. His role as Walter Lee in Broadway's A Raisin in the Sun is the standard by which all others who dared portray the down-on-his-luck limo driver are judged.

In 1995, Davis & Dee were given "national treasure" status as recipients of the National Medal of Honor. In 2000, Davis & Dee were given the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, their highest honor. Just last year, they were recognized with a Kennedy Center Honor.

That' strong.

His marriage to Ms. Dee, which spanned more than five decades, is a testament to his loyalty and a love that literally lasted a lifetime. Today, those vows prove bittersweet as the words "til death do you part" tenderly sting the soul. Still, it's the standard to which I hold myself when entertaining thoughts of a lifelong union.

When asked who he would've liked to interview if he had the chance, Davis' answer was W.E.B. DuBois. If I were asked the same question, my answer would be Ossie. Plain and simple. Just to pick his brain, to find out what it takes to be a quadruple threat as a writer, actor, director, activist. To find out what it means to be Ossie Davis in America. What it was like to live strong.

When I met the couple, briefly one Saturday evening at the premiere of the Jim Brown biography put together by, yes, Spike Lee, I was in awe. I approached cautiously, out of reverence, and introduced myself and told them where I worked and how much I loved and respected them. They were gracious, almost shy, saying how pleased they were that someone from my generation saw their work as relevant, as important.

THAT was my moment with Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. Not an interview, but it could've been. Only because they took the time out to speak to me. Thinking back to that night doesn't make me sad today. It makes me feel privileged, honored that I got the chance to let them know how much I appreciated them. Allows me to waltz through my memories of Davis being on Evening Shade with Burt Reynolds when I was young, dance with the thoughts of seeing him star in, direct and write Cotton Comes To Harlem when I was even younger.

All of these accomplishments add up to a canyon full of Black history. Adds up to a lifetime of consistency and greatness from an outstanding individual. Today, it adds up to a great subtraction from the human family.

So, as I say a teary-eyed Rest In Peace to Mr. Davis, as I recall all that made me appreciate him for being the black man that he was, I'd like to do one last roll call, one final shout to an American legend.

Thank him for all of the history. Thank him for living strong.

scribbled by Will at 2/04/2005 01:19:00 PM
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Mind Droppings

I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. (Joan Didion)

The Write One

Will. Lefty. Since Summer 1971.
Over the next six months, I'll be saying some hellos, some goodbyes. Living, laughing, growing. Don't.miss.a.word.
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