Two Stars in Transition: The Loss of Two Very Special African American Men

November 14th, 2006

Last week saw two very sad days for many of us, particularly those in the African American community. First, renowned television journalist Ed Bradley passed away on Thursday, November 9th, and before we could come to terms with that loss we found that Gerald Levert, another shining star had passed on. One of the things that disturbed me tremendously was the continual drone of media shows pronouncing the death of these two remarkable men. Death, the end, the abrupt and final departure of two men that meant so much too so many, I could not and do not accept this concept. Ed Bradley and Gerald Levert did not simply die. Have these two remarkable souls transcended this existence, absolutely, but they did not just cease to exist. There are those I am certain that will believe that I am speaking in the sense of the existential nature of passing, and while I certainly hold my own views of so-called death and dying, I am not focusing on transcendental concepts or ideas here. Few special people touch the masses on this Earth in the way that these two outstanding men did. Few people will have such a profound effect on so many people as these two talented individuals. Ed Bradley and Gerald Levert live on through their work and the spirit by which they both demonstrated the special qualities found in the nature of those that express talent and a desire to share with their fellow man.

On the 60 Minutes tribute show to Ed Bradley, his life and his many accomplishments were displayed, but more importantly the show revealed his humanity, the depth of his love, care and concern for others shined through Ed Bradley dead, I think not, he lives on vibrantly through the lives of those that he touched, even those that never knew he existed. Certainly, Ed’s passing is a loss, America knew Ed Bradley, indeed the world knew him we all appreciated his contributions to the world community. I will not stop admiring Brother Ed, yes I refer to him as Brother Ed, I know that I am not the only man, (not just man of color) that thought of him as my brother. Over the days since his passing I have come to be even more aware of what this peaceful, intelligent, passionate man meant to so many. My old college roommate and member of my extended family, my brother, George Fleming took a moment to call me while getting his car serviced. George, a clinical psychologist who is two years my elder and is also my mentor, emotionally declared…”man, I loved that brother, his dress, his demeanor, his coolness; he always filled me with such pride.” Later in the day, a young man from the hood that I was engaged in a conversation with smiled when I talked about Ed Bradley and how I had seen him dance on stage with the Neville Brothers. This young man, a serious working class citizen, replied, “My grandmother and her pastor both said a prayer for him, I saw him on TV but never really watched the shows he was on, he seemed cool, my grandmother cried about him passing away, so he must have been all that.”

Gerald Levert represented in a sense the transition of the old school to the new school in urban music when he burst onto the scene some years ago. With his singing group Levert, Gerald represented part of what was called the New Jack era in music and in urban culture. Gerald Levert celebrated his 40th birthday in July of this year, but this was a young man that reached the pinnacle of success in the music world. In the tradition of his famous father Eddie Levert of O Jays fame, Gerald Levert was an R&B crooner, a song stylist the likes of which are rarely seen these days. Many in the larger society may not know of Gerald Levert, but in urban communities this young man was an icon and a beacon that represented the rich heritage of music found in the traditions of Black America, in the church and in the streets. Gerald Levert was a celebrity but he touched his fans and relished in being from the hood. Gerald demonstrated to young people in urban communities just what could be accomplished when one puts their talents to work. Forming the group Levert with his brother and his cousin this young man blazed a trail of success through the entertainment industry. He would later have a successful solo career as well as success with projects where he collaborated with his famous father and other legends in the music industry. Brother Gerald Levert, like Brother Ed Bradley will never die, his life serves to illuminate the qualities of beauty, compassion and passion in the human spirit and thus it cannot die.

Today, when black males are too often the focal point of urban pathology, the loss of these two stars puts everything into perspective for me, these two men born in different times but with so many similarities, they both demonstrate that our humanity never dies. Richness has time and again been born of urban culture as revealed by the lives of these two legendary descendants of American Urban community and culture.

In celebration of the life of two mega stars from our urban communities we should all recognize that we must erase what has become a pathology and transcend the culture of ignorance, violence and death that has in recent years plagued our communities. As these two stars have made the transition from this life and left behind so many treasures for us to enjoy and remember, we must transcend the death of our communities to once again reveal the shining nature that lies within them.

2 Responses to “Two Stars in Transition: The Loss of Two Very Special African American Men”

  1. Dr. Robin Lee Says:

    I find it disheartening that two major figures of Black male masculinity: Ed Bradley (a true manifestation of Black intelligentsia and activism) and, Gerald Levert (illustrating vocal dominance and passion as a purveyor of grown folks music), would have their homecomings in the same week. It makes me wonder who will carry the burden they left behind. I’m not seeking answers to that age-old question of “Where are our Black leaders?” But, more so, who remains of our cultural icons, such as Mr. Bradley and Mr. Levert, today? There are not many current artists in the music business that I can express deep pride – in fact, most often when I hear about one of our own in the media, their presence is riddled with the insinuation of criminal activity and/or lascivious behavior (i.e. Snoop and R. Kelly). I won’t even bother to discuss contemporary depictions of Minstrelism available for public consumption on the VH1 show that I refuse to watch.

    Similarly, the journalistic community now has a deep void with the passing of Mr. Bradley. Those left behind to carry the torch can hardly be called up on to replicate the stellar accomplishments of the first Black correspondent in 60 Minutes history. It would simply be foolish to believe that Al Roker will fill Mr. Bradley’s shoes – there is no weather segment on 60 Minutes. Of course there are several Black, retired NFL would-be journalists ready to carry on his work. But again, until there’s a sports segment on 60 Minutes, this is unlikely to happen.

    There are several Black social commentarists and scholars among us, but few outside of academe recognize their brilliance: Michael Eric Dyson, Todd Boyd, Cornel West, Julianne Malveaux, to name a few.

    With regard to the music industry, it is evident that few cultural icons like Gerald Levert still exist. No wonder, when I hang out with my parents in Detroit and listen to “old music”, my momma still shakes her head in disgust and says, “No one will ever sing a song as good as Marvin Gaye.” I expect the same will be said for Mr. Levert in years to come. No matter how hard he tries to replicate the sound, Ruben Stoddard will never be another Luther Vandross.

    As a university administrator and member of the faculty, I worry about the future of our new millennial students. Certainly one can argue that there may be among our youth the next Gerald Levert and Ed Bradley, but amidst the ever-present and contradictory portrayals of our quasi-appointed Black cultural icons, it’s hard to imagine.

  2. Sharon Williams Says:

    Re: Brutha Ed:
    Of all the tributes this week to Brutha Bradley, the most compelling were the testimonies to his compassion. He was a man of great integrity, achievement and pride. Did I mention that he was a fine specimen of a man, too?! Ed’s compassion was his most outstanding quality and the world is a better place for his presence. Amiri Baraka summed it up it excellently,’ Make some muscle in your head, but use the muscle in your heart.’ Brutha Bradley’s heart was world class. Unfortunately, men of his caliber appear to be a dying breed…

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