2014 Keynote Speaker

DICK GREGORY                                                                                                                    

ACTIVIST, PHILOSOPHER, ANTI-DRUG CRUSADER, COMEDIAN, AUTHOR, ACTOR RECORDING ARTIST, NUTRITIONIST 

   Dick Gregory

Gregory, Richard Claxton "Dick" (Born, October 12, 1932, St. Louis, Mo.), African American comedian and civil rights activist whose social satire changed the way white Americans perceived African American comedians since he first performed in public.

Dick Gregory entered the national comedy scene in 1961 when Chicago's Playboy Club (as a direct request from publisher Hugh Hefner) booked him as a replacement for white comedian, "Professor" Irwin Corey. Until then Gregory had worked mostly at small clubs with predominantly black audiences (he met his wife, Lillian Smith, at one such club). Such clubs paid comedians an average of five dollars per night; thus Gregory also held a day job as a postal employee. By 1962 Gregory had become a nationally known headline performer, selling out nightclubs, making numerous national television appearances, and recording popular comedy albums.

It's important to note that 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. Gregory began performing comedy in the mid-1950s while serving in the army. Drafted in 1954 while attending Southern Illinois University at Carbondale on a track scholarship, Gregory briefly returned to the university after his discharge in 1956, but left without a degree because he felt that the university "didn't want me to study, they wanted me to run." In the hopes of performing comedy professionally, he moved to Chicago, where he became part of a new generation of black comedians that included Nipsey Russell, Bill Cosby, and Godfrey Cambridge.

From an early age, Gregory demonstrated a strong sense of social justice. While a student at Sumner High School in St. Louis he led a March protesting Segregated schools. Later, inspired by the work of leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Gregory took part in the Civil Rights Movement and used his celebrity status to draw attention to such issues as segregation and disfranchisement. When local Mississippi governments stopped distributing Federal food surpluses to poor blacks in areas where SNCC was encouraging voter registration, Gregory chartered a plane to bring in several tons of food. He participated in SNCC's voter registration drives and in sit-ins to protest segregation, most notably at a restaurant franchise in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. Only later did Gregory disclose that he held stock in the chain.

Gregory's first autobiography was published in 1963 prior to the assassination of President Kennedy, and became the number one best-selling book in America. Over the decades it has sold in excess of seven million copies.

After the assassinations of King, President John F. Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy, Gregory became increasingly convinced of the existence of political conspiracies. Gregory wrote books such as Code Name Zorro: The Murder of Martin Luther King Jr. (1971) with Mark Lane, world famous author, attorney and documentary filmmaker, whose findings published in the best-selling 1966 book Rush To Judgment Gregory credited with reversing the nation’s opinion on who assassinated the president and the facts which contradicted the official government version contained in the Warren Report. Lane’s book contained answers and facts, which Gregory has espoused in Numerous lectures from then until now. Gregory and Lane’s book on the assassination of Dr. King was recently released under another title, Murder In Memphis, as a trade paperback.

In 1973, the year he released his comedy album Caught in the Act, Gregory moved with his family to Plymouth, Massachusetts, where he developed an interest in vegetarianism and became a nutritional consultant. In 1984 he founded Health Enterprises, Inc., a company that distributed weight loss products. In 1987 Gregory introduced the Slim-Safe Bahamian Diet, a powdered diet mix, which was immensely profitable. Economic losses caused in part by conflicts with his business partners led to his eviction from his home in 1992. Gregory remained active, however, and in 1996 returned to the stage in his critically acclaimed one-man show,” Dick Gregory Live!”  The reviews of Gregory's show compared him to the greatest stand-ups in the history of Broadway.

In 1998, Gregory spoke at the celebration of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. attended also by President Clinton. Not long after that, the President told Gregory's long-time friend and PR. Consultant, Steve Jaffe, "I love Dick Gregory, he is one of the funniest people on the planet." They spoke of how Gregory had made a comment on Dr. King's birthday that broke everyone into laughter, when he noted that the President made Speaker Newt Gingrich ride "in the back of the plane," on an Air Force One trip overseas. In 2001, Gregory announced to the world that he had been diagnosed with a rare form of Cancer. He refused traditional medical treatment – chemotherapy –and with the assistance of some of the finest minds in alternative medicine, put together a regimen of a variety of diet, vitamins, exercise, and modern devices not even known to the public, which ultimately resulted in his reversing the trend of the Cancer to the point where today he is 100% Cancer free.

Gregory was honored recently at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., by a sold out house and a tribute hosted by Bill Cosby, with special tributes by Mrs. Martin Luther King Jr., Stevie Wonder, Isaac Hayes, Cicely Tyson, Mark Lane, Marion Barry and many more.

His most recent book, Callus On My Soul, (Longstreet Press, Atlanta, Ga.) which became a best-seller within weeks of publication, is an autobiography that updates his earlier autobiography, because as Dick says, "I've lived long enough to need two autobiographies which is fine with me. I'm looking forward to writing the third and fourth volumes as well."

In 2001, Gregory escaped death once again when a massive tree fell on his car in a storm in Washington D.C. crushing it completely, causing him to have to be extricated from the car by emergency crews. One witness said, "I knew the driver and his passengers had died when I saw the tree fall." Gregory said, "I knew that God had more work for me to do when I saw the tree falling. " He saved his own life by driving into the oncoming lanes of traffic. The word of the accident circulated the globe immediately in the media, underscoring the power, influence, and support that Gregory has earned from people of all nations. 

 

List of Previous Speakers

2013 Myrlie Evers-Williams, Civil Rights activist, first female chairperson of the NAACP
2012 Andrew Young, US Ambassador, Congressman, Mayor of Atlanta and Co-Founding Principal and Chairman of Goodworks International
2011 Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, political commentator and educator
2010 Kweisi Mfume, political and business leader
2009 Dr. Nikki Giovanni, poet, author, essayist and professor
2008 Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Jr., Senior Minister Emeritus, The Riverside Church; President and Founder, Healing of the Nations Foundation
2007 Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, Co-Founder, Southern Christian Leadership Conference
2006 Julian Bond, Chairman, NAACP
2005 Juan Williams, Author, Columnist, NPR Host
2004 Dr. Scott Ellsworth, Author, "Death in a Promised Land..."
2003 *Rep. Opio Toure, Oklahoma State Representative
2002 Hon. Fred R. Harris, Former US Senator, Member of "The Group"
2001 Dr. G. Calvin McCutchen, Sr., Pastor, Mt. Zion Baptist Chruch
2000 W.A. Drew Edmondson, Attorney General of the State of Oklahoma
1999 Ms. Diane Nash, Student Leader of the Non-violent Civil Rights Movement of te 1960s
1998 Rev. Dr. James Lawson, Pastor, Holman United Methodist Church, Los Angeles, California
1997 Mr. Morris Dees, Co-Founder, Southern Law Poverty Center, Montgomery, Alabama
1996 *Rev. Wade Watts, Pastor, Jerusalem Baptist Church, Oklahoma City
1995 *Dr. Ernest Holloway, President, Langston University
1994 *Ms. Clara Luper, Oklahoma Civil Rights Leader, Oklahoma City
1993 Dr. Cynthia Hale, Pastor, Atlanta, Georgia
1992 *Dr. Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, University of Oklahoma Board of Regents
1991 *The Honorable Hannah Atkins, Oklahoma Secretary of State, 1987-1991
1990 Brig. Gen. Frank L. Miller, Jr., Commander, III Corps Artillery, Fort Sill
1989 Dr. George Henderson, Department of Human Relations, University of Oklahoma
1988 *Rev. JL Davenport, Pastor, St. John's Baptist Church
1987 Dr. Melvin Todd, Vice President, Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education
1986 Rev. Gregory Wilson Jones, Pastor, Frederick, OK
1985 Dr. Valree Wynn, Emeritus Cameron Faculty

*Denotes deceased