THE HUTCHINSON REPORT
By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The moment is still frozen in time with me. It happened several years ago when a throng of friends, relatives and admirers gathered at a medical facility in the San Fernando Valley to honor and pay homage to Willis Edwards, a longtime NAACP national board member, and relentless fighter for civil rights.
Edwards was terminally ill and a group of friends were determined to honor him in his presence. For the hour or so we were there, Edwards never stopped smiling, talking and reveling in the glow of the love and appreciation that his many admirers showered on him that day.
It brought a joy to him and all present that could only be described as moving and magical. The important thing was that he was there to enjoy that moment. And he did.
I thought of that magical moment when I heard that there was a groundswell of support for making an honorary designation of a street or public space in Inglewood in honor of Stevie Wonder. Stevie’s place in musical history is well established.
His accomplishments, his influence, his innovation, and his ground-breaking firsts in the music world are the stuff of not just high praise and recognition, but of legend. The honors he has received for his musical contributions fill several storehouses.
However, it’s not Stevie Wonder the music icon that has been the most gripping and compelling aspect of his life for me. It is Wonder as humanitarian and social activist that has truly marked him in my eyes as a man for the ages.
He has been unfailing in putting his name, reputation and music behind a telephone book size list of civil rights actions through the years. The long fight for a national holiday for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. readily comes to mind.
Wonder was a driving force behind that campaign. He sang, lobbied and participated in countless actions to make the holiday a reality. But there have been many other causes and crusades that Wonder has openly and quietly lent his name too.
President Barack Obama certainly recognized that when he strapped the Presidential Medal of Freedom around Wonder’s neck in a White House ceremony. But there’s more to the Wonder story than civil rights activism. And it’s that story that underscores the call for an honorary designation in Inglewood for him.
Wonder could have rested on his towering laurels as a musician and artist and basked in the plaudits for his civil rights work. But he understood that empowering a community is a crucial need. Enter KJLH.
The station has carried Wonder’s imprint and stamp on it for decades. Whether it is raising money for a cause, promoting an event, or supporting groups and individuals working on community uplift causes and issues from the fight against homelessness to health care awareness, one can count on the ubiquitous KJLH van and personnel being at the scene. The event or action would be broadcast live on the station.
Wonder sees the mission of media as not just music and entertainment but informing, educating, mobilizing and spurring a community to action. By putting his money and his energy into creating and sustaining a viable African-American-owned business in Inglewood, Wonder sends a strong message that he believes deeply in the importance and need to build strong black-owned economic institutions.
This is especially important given that black-owned radio stations and media outlets nationally are disappearing faster than the Dodo Bird. Most were bought out by the major media conglomerates.
In almost all cases the first to go was the meaty social and political talk programming that black listeners relied on for years to stay informed on the issues. Instead listeners are now fed a steady diet of celebrity gossip, chit chat, party time and formula music.
In short, the dumbing down of black media. Wonder would have none of that and has stayed the course on his mission of providing a continuing model of public service to the community.
There’s one other issue in the call for Inglewood to honor Wonder with a street designation while he is still very much a presence in the community. That is how we honor our historical giants, sheroes and heroes while they are still living.
I think of Willis Edwards when this question comes up. Yes, it would have been nice and certainly appropriate to have a public place — be it a street, park or building — named after someone of the stature of Edwards after his death.
But that smile on his face, and that of the throngs that gathered that day to honor him, was priceless and eternally locked in time. It was doubly sweet for him and us because he was there to enjoy that moment. The same will be said for Wonder if Inglewood heeds the call for an honorary street designation for him. He deserves it. Inglewood deserves it. And history deserves it. That will bring a smile to all.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, an author and political analyst, is taking a couple of weeks off. This column was originally published Dec. 5, 2019.