A C K N O W L E D G E M E N T S A N D H I S T O R Y
“Nothing is so easy or so wasteful as the work of hating -- except hating work.” — Jesse Binga
When I think of my family background, I think about strong work ethics and I say, “Mmmm!” I think that because there is a lot of “good” work in our history. There’s also many “M’s”. There’s Madagascar, ministry, music and men’s wear.
My family has a rich journey with ministry. On December 16, 1870, my great- great-grandfather, Doc Woods, along with 40 other former slaves, founded the Colored (presently Christian) Methodist Episcopal Church (C.M.E.). This organization was also the first national black organization established by former slaves. This great history with ministry is very important to me.
My great-grandfather, Jack Watson was born in the very unique country of Madagascar. How incredible is that?! We’ll talk more about that later. Although he passed away before I was born, I believe that my “uniqueness” exactly comes from him and Madagascar.
When he came to the U.S., he eventually ended up in Chicago where he worked with dedication for the real estate mogul and banker Jesse Binga. The best thing my great-grandfather did was to marry my great-grandmother, Jessie and I remember her very well.
My great-grandmother, the late Rev. Jessie “Ma” (Watson) Houston, is a significant inspiration. I vividly remember witnessing the dedication of a building in her name in 1980. It was the first for an African-American in downtown Chicago. Then-Congressman Harold Washington and State Senator Richard Newhouse were there for the presentation. It was a testament to the cornerstone of her work in committing more than 35 years of her life to visiting prisons to counsel inmates and speak on their behalf. Ma "stood in the gap" for people of all backgrounds and ethnicities.
She worked arduously for social change and became an integral part of the Chicago connection to The Civil Rights Movement. She left an indelible mark on world leaders and activists alike, having mentored or counseled many during this era, including Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Andrew Young, James Brown, Robert Culp, and Dick Gregory.
Furthermore, former President Jimmy Carter, former Illinois Governor James Thompson, and countless politicos have remarkable recollections of Ma. Religious leaders such as Rev. Clay Evans, Bishop Arthur M. Brazier, Father George Clemens, and Rev. Otis Moss, II, to name a few, were also enlightened by her unique and direct approaches to “collective responsibility and participation.”
Ma is also celebrated with a bronze plaque embedded in Bronzeville’s Walk of Fame, and a large park located in the Chicago’s Kenwood neighborhood is named after her. The park includes a mural and is located a few short blocks away from the Chicago home of President Barack Obama.
My great-grandmother’s relationships allowed me to have childhood friends that included Rev. Otis Moss, III, and Yusef Jackson, the son of Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. Unfortunately, I did not have a relationship with my father, but I had unique and unlimited access to role models. I recall running up to Rev. Jackson as early as three years old and he would pick me up and spend time talking to me. It didn’t matter who he was with or what he was doing at the time.
Along with Otis and Yusef, we were all just ordinary boys full of life and energy. That energy was often redirected by Rev. George Riddick, St. Clair Booker, and Ike Putnam, to name a few. Rev. Riddick often challenged us to be real thinkers and to read as much as possible. He was like a walking encyclopedia because he could quote stats and had remarkable information recall. He was one of a kind.
Like Rev. Riddick, Ike Putnam was also brilliant. He was a scientist, and when we needed help with a science project we turned to Ike. With his direction, we produced some of the best science projects at school and even won placement at some science fairs. Ike was very serious about science, but he was also a magician. He would surprise us every time when he did a magic show. Oh boy—the memories!
Now “Saint,” as we called St. Clair, was a big time disciplinarian. He was very intimidating, but he was also full of surprises. He was unpredictable but had a very compassionate side. He gave us greeting cards for birthdays and I have a fond memory of a card he gave me when I had a fall on my school playground. He even visited me at the hospital after the accident.
Rev. Riddick and Ike have both passed away, but they left incredible legacies. Saint recently celebrated a birthday. It’s hard to believe that he is almost 90 years old. Every time he sees me, he gives me the warmest reception ever.
So, although I did not have the relationship that I longed for with my father, I certainly had it with these male role models. Several uncles, in particular, have also been incredible inspiration. My granduncle, Sonny Thompson, was an early American R&B Bandleader, pianist and writer. He wrote 95 songs and performed several big hits; “Long Gone” and “Drown in My Own Tears” were among them. He performed “Drown in My Own Tears” with Ray Charles and many artists have re-recorded this song.
Granduncle Sonny’s sons (my uncle’s), continued his legacy in music and creativity. Uncle Ron is a jazz musician (Ron Brooks Trio) and was owner of the now defunct treasure, “Bird of Paradise” jazz club (Ann Arbor). He has worked with Quincy Jones and Bob James early in their careers. There is even a sandwich named after him.
Uncle Edward has returned to his first love of painting, a passion he had before he left the U.S. in the 60’s. When he moved to Europe, he never looked back. He began a stellar career in fashion as a colorist, and also worked in fabric choices, knitwear, and accessories mainly in men’s wear. After working for Sonia Rykiel for many years, he retired recently. At present he has visual work in galleries in Paris, France.
My mother, Karen, did an outstanding job raising me. Although it was painful having the void of not having my father in my life, I wouldn’t change a thing. I say that because my mother was incredibly strong. She did her very best, and she instilled so many principles in me. She was a great thinker. She cared, and she nurtured.
She had style, and that’s where I get it. However, she also made sure to empower me in different ways so that I did not become shallow. Her challenge was to be sure that I focused on becoming known for what’s going on in my mind and less with external things.
“Do the best that you can,” she often said. So, every challenge I conquered, I put my best foot forward. This felt right. What’s left after doing your best? There’s nothing left after that.
Furthermore, I have been blessed with my mother’s memory and many other family members that have passed away who have left me with incredible elements of strength, etiquette, humanity, and compassion. I feel honored to be part of their legacies.
I’m now having an exceptional time with my family. I can’t lose with Aunt Sarah’s cooking, and good conversation with my Uncle Alan and my brothers about entertainment, sports, and public service. I am a sponge for wisdom so I enjoy our hearty debates. My grandmother, “Queen Mother” Rev. Helen Sinclair, who recently retired as the first female chaplain at an all male maximum security prison (in the entire world) is often a special guest at these events. She has also worked in the Peace Corps (Malawi) and her work is an inspiration, and is why I love public service.
Speaking of service, my last year of college was the most challenging. I was in school full-time at Columbia College in Chicago and in leadership capacity as the chair of the Student Organizations Council and president of the African American Alliance, among other activities. On top of all this, I was able to land a part-time job working for Oprah Winfrey. My mother had colon cancer and she passed away one week before I graduated; I funeralized her the day before graduating. Even with all that was on my plate, I did not forsake my commitments to service on campus. I made it all work.
My part-time job became full-time with Ms. Winfrey for nearly eight years. I cherish many experiences there, including giving her the idea to feature what happens “after” The Oprah Winfrey Show tapings. Frequently, after the shows the discussions continued and were so powerful. It only made sense to keep the cameras rolling because very often these discussions even became fodder for more topics. In retrospect, I liken the concept to when great parties end up concluding in the kitchen; away from the “Great Room”.
“Oprah After the Show” and a John Gray seminar for Harpo staff were my favorite contributions. With the John Gray seminar, I thought that while Oprah empowered TV audiences -- the staff needed it too! It proved to be a very powerful session. I am a better person after working for her and absorbing all the lessons in service that I learned during that journey. She truly has a great heart and commitment to service.
It has been a great experience to grow up and work around—and for—greatness. Furthermore, I have traveled to great places and have been exposed to so much. Unfortunately, these experiences have surely contributed to my past struggles with humility, but at the same time serve as inspiration for this workbook. I now consider myself to be “a catalyst for positive efforts”. I love “igniting” passion and compassion for humanity through art, music, writing and missionary work.
D E D I C A T I O N
d e d i c a t i o n
D E D I C A T I O N
WITH DR. KING
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO MY
BEAUTIFUL, UNIQUE, CREATIVE,
AND EXCEPTIONAL WIFE “GG,” TO
THE MEMORY OF MY DEAREST
MOTHER KAREN, I CHERISH YOUR
LOVE, STYLE, SMILE, AND CHARACTER.
TO MY GRANDMOTHER, QUEEN
MOTHER HELEN; MY INCREDIBLE
BROTHERS, ROLAND, JR, ALLEN,
AND RANDOLPH (DAISY)…TO MY
DEAR GODPARENTS, UNCLE ALAN
& AUNT SARAH; MY AUNTS,
FAHMEEDA AND KELLIE (JOSEPH);
MY UNCLES, RYAN (VANETTA) AND
EUGENE; COUSINS, NIECES,
NEPHEWS…TO MY MOTHER–IN–
LOVE, JESSIE, THE LOVING MEMORY
OF MY FATHER–IN–LOVE, JAMES,
SR., MY “NEW” SIBLINGS, AUNTS,
UNCLES, COUSINS, NIECES, AND
NEPHEWS…TO MY CLOSEST
FRIENDS NATE (SHALONDA) AND
RANDY…I AM WHO I AM AND
WHERE I AM TODAY BECAUSE OF
YOUR LOVE, SUPPORT, COUNSEL,