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Whitney Houston: What can be learned from her tragic death?

The use and abuse of illicit drugs have ended the lives of Billy Holiday, David Ruffin, Michael Jackson and now that specter has come into the picture with our “beloved” Whitney Houston.

Award-winning actor, singer and dancer Ben Vereen is in excellent health, entertains all over the country, performing his concert act and is a motivational speaker and a minister. An earlier version of this guest commentary contained a factual error and an incomplete reference to Mr. Vereen. The Tri-State Defender has a longstanding commitment to integrity in journalism. We regret this error, freely acknowledge the need for clarification and apologize to Mr. Vereen and his family and wish him continued success.

Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba Gray

The list of African-American Super Stars who make stupid decisions seems to be endless. The use and abuse of illicit drugs have ended the lives of Billy Holiday, David Ruffin, Michael Jackson and now that specter has come into the picture with our “beloved” Whitney Houston.

One might say, “European American performers do the same thing.” Yes, I know about Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe, but they have not been sources of inspiration for African-American youth. Even though European performers abuse drugs, that is no excuse for us to use and abuse drugs. The net results are the same.

It saddens us to see these gifted masters of musical genius fail in their personal lives when we have been pointing to them as symbols of achievement. Our hearts break in their tragic demise and we start looking for other role models with a great degree of disappointment.

We often think, “They had all the fame and fortune, gold and glory.” They lived the American Dream often without waking up to their African heritage and responsibility. European thinking is based on the individual while Afrocentric thinking is based on the village (community). Too many of our “super stars” live the selfish pursuits of material accumulation and high styling profiles to demonstrate they made it with few returns to the village. Then, tragically, they die with a needle in their veins on the dark side of bad decisions and the perpetual American nightmare of selfishness.

How can we end this roller coaster ride that eventually dumps all riders without regards for their lives and future?

Start “Table Seminars” in our homes and teach our children three lessons:

LESSON ONE: Destiny is determined by choice and not chance. Tell them of the great achievements Africans have made to the world and the achievements of African-Americans in this country in spite of racism, class-ism, segregation and discrimination. Good decisions can change bad situations and overcome tremendous odds. Bad decisions can negate good talent and deplete gifts. Whitney Houston was raised in the Church but bad decisions allowed her to be ruined by the culture.

LESSON TWO: Life is not measured by the abundance of things and stuff one accumulates for self, but by the service one renders to others. True, long-lasting happiness and joy will never be found in material things but rather in the altruistic efforts to help the last, least and lost of the village. Dr. Martin L. King Jr. is our prime example of this principle and the legacy of Sojourner Truth, Mary McLeod Bethune, Frederick Douglas and Dr. George Washington Carver is punctuated by altruism (serving others without regards for self).

LESSON THREE: The “Drug Culture” has a patented tragic end that is fail proof. It produces failure, frustration and destruction every time with no exceptions. The “Drug Culture” has claimed victory over medical doctors, politicians, ministers, lawyers, nurses, scholars, journalists and scientists as well as the entertainers. Caution our youth that slavery during the 18th and 19th centuries was involuntary and it makes no sense to be a voluntary slave in the 21st Century.

Even when we try to remember the wonderful achievements of Whitney Houston, the pain and grief of her untimely demise overtakes us and we end up asking, “Why?”
No one can forget her rendition of the Star Spangle Banner for the opening Super Bowl XXV. Millions were moved to tears and the emotions of patriotism were elevated to an all-time high. No artist has been able to match that performance and many have concluded it is useless to try. We remember her on stage, elegantly dressed to receive her first Grammy and the many musical awards thereafter. We marvel at her record sell of 170 million albums and the unforgettable hit, “I’ll Always Love You." It is unfortunate that she never seems to have loved herself.

If Black History does nothing else for African Americans, it most certainly should teach us to love ourselves to the point that we stop killing ourselves and embrace the God-given missions for the village. Black History for America is “Me Too.” Black History for African Americans is “Yes We Can because We Have.”

(The Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba Gray is pastor of New Sardis Baptist Church and president of the Memphis satellite of Operation Push.)


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