Who is Clarence Avant – The Black Godfather?

Who is Clarence Avant – The Black GodFather? And Why Should We Care?

Reginald Hudlin produced and directed the Netflix documentary, The Black Godfather (2019) which chronicles the unusual path to power, influence, and the weightiness of Clarence Avant. In a culture obsessed with fame and celebrity, and in the ruthless business of television, film, music, and politics. This inimitable man wielded much of the power that shaped the 20th-century culture and yet did not need or seek the spotlight. To most people, he is The Godfather who just happened to be black because his goal was to ensure that all stakeholders irrespective of race and status in any deal, bought into a broader vision of fairness and respect for each other’s value. For this ultimate dealmaker in his work as a music executive, entrepreneur, and film producer, it often came down to “numbers.”

Through a career that spanned 50 years and numerous awards, like his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (2016), BET Honors (2013), and the Grammy Salute to Industry Icons Award (2019), Clarence Avant’s core message (laced with choice curse words) remained simple – family is the foundation for success, know your worth and demand it, move forward and bring others along, and know that real wealth comes from entrepreneurship and ownership. He is an intentional family man to his wife of 57 years, Jacqueline “Jackie” Gray and their children, Nicole (Fmr. Amb. to The Bahamas) and Alexander. He is a true friend to his lifelong buddy, Quincy Jones; and a no B.S. mentor to the countless individuals from all walks of life grafted into the bloodline of this Black Godfather.

He moved effortlessly between black and white communities connecting people, instinctively recognizing and serving the unmet need. He mentored a bloodline of high powered executives like Sony/ATV’s Jon Platt, Benny Medina; musicians and entrepreneurs like P. Diddy, Jay-Z, Snoop, Ludacris, Jamie Foxx; sports legends like Muhammed Ali and Aaron Hall; politicians like Ambassador Andrew Young, Rev. Al Sharpton, Presidents Carter, Clinton, and Obama. He helped launch the musical careers of producers like La Reid, Babyface, Terry Lewis, and Jimmy Jam; and artists like Bill Withers (Lean on Me, Ain’t no sunshine), Johnny Nash (I can see clearly now), Janet Jackson, and The SOS Band. On his now-defunct Sussex and Tubu record labels, he signed up talent regardless of race. It was Clarence Avant who made the phone call to move then Sen. Barack Obama’s unforgettable 2004 DNC speech to prime time, even though he remained loyal to his friends, the Clintons during the Democratic Primaries in 2008.

Why Should We Care?

This is someone you’ll like to know…I know I would. We learn in his story how to give ourselves in service to the greater good for all, how to receive help from friends when we fall, and how to remain authentic no matter what. From a poor kid born in 1931 in the segregated North Carolina, a teenager sent away to be raised by his aunt in New Jersey after getting into trouble, Avant became a behind-the-scenes power-broker and influencer. We watch the story of a man without advanced education use street smarts, learn life skills from his mentor, Louis Armstrong’s manager, Joe Glaser and apply them with his trademark candor and fairness to all who came into his path.

When asked about the motivation for his life-work, Avant points to the 1955 racially- motivated lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi for allegedly flirting with a white woman. Heart-broken and initially enraged by the senseless torture and murder, he refused to yield to hate and chose to become a bridge. This Netflix documentary is a well-deserved tribute to a living icon and a condensed account worth watching about a man, leader, and father, who remains crystal clear about his purpose which is to recognize the value in another, to facilitate connections that move people towards the “promised land,” so that they can, in turn, help the next generation.

Onward!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes/References:

Reginald Hudlin:

Producer and Director for House Party (1990), Django Unchained (2012) and Marshall (2017)

Image Credit: Netflix, Billboard, Google

Youtube: The Black Godfather (Netflix 2019)

 

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Extraordinary Love -The Path to Personal Development.

 

“Extraordinary love flows from those who do their life’s work.” AD

A few years ago, when I took an intensive HarvardX edX course called Immunity to Change™, I was so surprised by the emphasis on love in the introductory lecture by Drs. Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey that I paused the video and rechecked the course information, thinking, wait…this is Harvard not, the church right? Well, I came away with some insights about how the love of self and of others factors into our personal development and growth.

Our culture and humanity are suffering deeply from the deluge of outrage and violence, so much so, that our aggressiveness towards one another has become the order of the day, the headline news, and the click-bait. We have leaders who are proudly amoral, children and families traumatized by senseless gun violence, and metrics of materialism and false perfection that ascribes worthiness. We also, risk becoming inured to the revolving door of acts of hatred and divisiveness that pervades our communities.

Still, I am hopeful because almost everyone has the same reaction to the sight of a baby in the arms of a parent. Our hearts give way to love, which in its purest form, is emotion free of judgment and expectation. If the child is crying and uncomfortable, we are immediately concerned. Concern and consideration are how love translates into action. And so, we make funny faces, we ask the parent if they need help, or we share an understanding smile. It is no accident that the most revered people in history were generous and empathetic  – think Jesus or Mother Teresa – they were moved by compassion.

In contemporary times, we’ve seen examples of extraordinary love and philanthropy from those who have also excelled in their life’s work – Bono, Oprah, Bill & Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett, Li Ka-Shing, Andrew Carnegie, etc. Okay, these are prominent people, but they all did not start at the top – but at some critical point that propelled them forward, they discovered their natural talents and intentionally applied these principles of love that I culled from my course, towards their personal growth and development:

  • In life’s work or vocation combine the two strong and grounding forces of belief and values.
  • Change expansively with compassion for yourself and others. Generously forgive yourself and others.
  • When faced with challenges, view them as opportunities that require growth, new tools, and strategies.
  • Meditate and dig deep within. We all have an internal “cheat sheet.” The answers always precede the problems, and our posture should not be that of trying to dig out from a stuck place. Think in abundant terms.
  • Acrimony and hatred deplete and dim our lives. Love liberates us from self-torture and limitations.

Our personal growth is directly tied to positive shifts in our thinking, to evaluating our choices, and by taking small behavioral steps to reach what Oprah calls the “best version of ourselves.” We’ve heard people say, “I can’t believe I get paid to do what I love.” or “This does not feel like work.” That sense of enormous gratitude comes from doing and excelling at our life’s work and opens up the heart. So, it’s worth finding and following our calling and passion. The most crucial self-development goal is to daily commit to becoming extraordinary lovers of ourselves and others. Let’s go be phenomenal!

“Freedom is the will to be responsible to ourselves.” Friedrich Nietzsche

Image Credit: Pixabay.com

Silence Breakers – May Willows Surround

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WILLOWS OF WADI SURROUND – A poem by Ama Danesi

My mouth kisses my palm

and holds back welling tears

I remember I was a stranger there

his hands groping, seizing,

searching for certainty here.

As long as wicked is in the room

may willows of the wadi

surround and mark me safe.

This pain is not measured

by the scale of years

but unraveled by melodies

and as shadows reflect mysteries.

My river once turbulent

is no longer frightened for

tree of harps are singing out

names and redemption songs.

Once hushed and gray as a moth

my whole soul sings too, loud.

Me who moved further from shore,

now, rushes home in an exquisite

finery of light, sculpted in palace style.

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Time Magazine deservedly honored the “Silence Breakers” as Person of the Year 2017. These women and men challenged the status quo of sexual aggression and I stand with every girl, boy, woman, and man who has suffered the injustice and humiliation of sexual assault and abuse. We will not keep silent concerning our bodies and limbs.

We celebrate its splendid frame and the brave hearts rising across the world to confront small, weeny “gods.” We celebrate the power of each voice and the collective refrain. Hear our souls sing out loud. The sound barrier is broken and people will be silent no more!

In Service,

AD

Image Credit: Pixabay and Time Magazine 2017: The Silence Breakers

Giving to Live

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“They throw caution to the winds,

Giving…in reckless abandon.

Their right-living, right-giving ways,

never run out, never wear out.”*

There are primarily two ways of administering our gifts to the world, as a matter of enthusiastic generosity or as a grudging obligation. Which defines your posture? Honestly, that’s about all we can control. I often find myself holding back when I prejudge or speculate about the reward as if I am entirely responsible for that. I find we can trust the blueprint and fearless design encoded in our being that gives rise to our natural abilities, to also amaze us with its commitment to reward our service and offerings beyond our expectations. A stingy farmer gets it stingy harvest but since many of us have sown love, laughter, care or blood, sweat, and tears; then as nature does, we must go through the process of seed, time, and harvest.

When we perceive the world as an inherited land, we can see ourselves as both the seed bearers and sowers. Imagine that every obstacle is an opportunity to learn from those who have gone before or time to color outside the lines. There’s a good reason why there are no easy, cookie-cutter answers to specific problems. Notably, those particular issues that test our enduring human spirit. University of Houston’s research professor and empathy advocate, Brené Brown encourages us to “Dare greatly.”

The best-selling author of Without Rival (2016) Lisa Bevere at the recent Confident Woman conference said, “Sometimes you have to stop looking around and look within because you’re supposed to do something that’s never been done before.” She asserts that we are not only unique, we are without rival. Therefore, in our authentic spaces, we bring an essence that can only be imitated but never duplicated.

We are all given something we can give away. Right-living demands we believe that. Right-giving requires a full commitment. Excuses are for wimps. I know that because I’ve held that office for some considerable time, but the ache of floundering snarls and nags at you like an addiction that will not quit till you either leaving as dead or show up as your authentic self. The lyric from the band, United Pursuit’s Let it Happen (2015) says, “You’re full of life now. And full of passion. That’s how he made you. Just let it happen.” Every seed planted in truth will grow, and every tree that shows up will have enough headroom to flourish.

On a practical level, I believe that today’s superheroes are entrepreneurs and visionaries. People with the drive to create, develop, refine, and nurture a crazy idea till it becomes an empire or offering that enriches the lives of others. Risks and profits considered, these are “doing” people. The scary part of the equation is actually doing something, putting something out there. Talk is not only cheap, but it’s also mediocre. It’s like putting your hand to the plow and looking back to the safe zone or the cozy couch –  the place without judgment and expectation – warm as an eagle’s nest to an oversized eaglet.

Let it happen. Verbs are the most potent expressions. They transform any passive line into an active and engaging one involving an action, the responsible party, and a reaction. My verb and doing word is “write, ” and because it comes easy, I often think it’s not valuable to anyone else. Now that’s a partial lie, applicable only to my journaling. Don’t buy into partial lies or let them stunt transformation. Greatness is not handed down, it is cultivated. If I want extraordinary results and life, then I have to work at writing, show up on the field and generously plant words as seeds. To others, the seed may be a new business, a new app, a sketch, a song, or another dance audition.

Final word to me and the wise – “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”** And that is so you never run or wear out. Find your verb and do it every day you are blessed to see the sunrise.

In service,

AD.

Credits:

Image – Pixabay

2 Corth. 9:8 (MSG)

Luke 6:38 (NIV)

This New America and Other Random Thoughts

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When your child’s school leaves a recorded voice message, offering counseling sessions and use of their Office of Human Relations and Equity to support meaningful conversations and concerns that you or your child may have, following a presidential election, you know that this is not normal.
When the district superintendent follows up with yet another message, soliciting your help to encourage your child to use assemblies, classroom dialogues, and open-mic activities to address their frustrations, because the district is concerned about the uptake student rebellion, falling grades, lawlessness, and walk-outs on campus, after the same presidential election, again,  not normal.

When you have to wear an unflattering safety pin on your collar or put up a hideous poster of one in your office or business to show your solidarity with millions of people who are terrified of racist and anti-Semitic abuse, and vandalism, which is occurring at alarming rates, after the same presidential election, you know this is a new America.
The safety pin symbol inspired by Syndey’s 2014 #illridewithyou movement following the Islamophobic backlash after a terrorist attack and adopted by Brits in the wake of the BREXIT against xenophobic abuse, has finally arrived in the United States of America. In USA Today, experts report that post-election spate of hate crimes is worse than post-9/11.

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We now live in a country where post-election, people can fly the confederate flag on their cars. People can boldly blandish the swastika – a sacred symbol used in Neolithic Eurasia, Eastern Religions, and Europe for good luck and well-being – until Schliemann 1920’s volkisch movement adopted it as a symbol of “Aryan identity” and German nationalist pride.
This election was about American nationalist pride (for a country founded by immigrants, who displaced the native Indians, that’s an oxymoron). It was also about the economy and pocketbook issues. On both fronts, the more stable and reasonable candidate, Hillary Clinton won the people’s heart and confidence a.k.a the popular vote by a margin of over two million and counting; but lost the electoral college vote.

These last few weeks has seen passionate anti-Trump demonstrations in over thirty-seven states. I get the frustration. How can the country reward a man with questionable morals, twitter-happy fingers, checkered business practices, and pending court cases with the highest honor and office of the land? A man so uninformed, inexperienced, unprepared and undisciplined that over sixty percent of the voters agreed that he was not qualified to be commander-in-chief.

Our children are decrying this choice that the ‘adults’ have made. It’s not fair to ask them to accept that Donald Trump can break all the rules of decency and decorum when he shattered accepted norms like transparency, facts, and tolerance. That he who became the crusader for propaganda and deplorable views can now wield enormous power over the nation. Our kids are asking, “Why should we bother to do right, be kind and do homework?”

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As a parent, I could not find the right answers. Instead, I offer a few thoughts:

  • Life is not fair. Sometimes we do not get what we deserve. Other times, grace gives us what we have not earned.
  • Christians call God – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Remember Jacob? He was known as the heel-grabber, deceiver, cheat, swindler, schemer, and usurper) Even after Jacob’s name was changed to Israel which means prince, God still preferred the former name. Maybe because as a fantasist, Jacob had ideas and desires that were outside the norm. He was a passionate change agent. It’s the what,  not the who.
  • To settle the *rancor between his disciples, when Peter asked. “But Lord, what about this man?” Jesus answered,”…what is that to you? You follow me.” Our focus after this election returns to evaluating our lives, keeping our hope on the Lord who rules in the affairs of men and has a broader perspective.
  • Stock up on emergency supplies. In a climate of unrest and discord, be prepared in case of a lock-down.
  • Donald Trump has four years to prove the skeptics wrong. If he takes the oath of office and fails to be the president that American needs, it will be a rough four years because people are committed to holding him accountable to the ideals of the office of the President.
  • Get involved in the political process. Talk to those with opposing views.
  • Pray. Pray for Donald, our leaders, and the victors. Pray comfort for Hillary and those who are broken-hearted and scared. Pray for wisdom, hope, and healing.

This situation is not normal. Our children, friends, and neighbors demonstrating for over a week, is not the usual aftermath of a presidential election. The bitter, tart tone of the past election season is responsible for this new America, but we’ll move forward if we all do our part.

May God bless the United States of America and All of us.

Photo Credits: Pixabay Images and amadanesi.com
*John 21:20-23