Ossie Davis, a monument of a man, a rich baratone voice for the downpressed, an artist who gave his whole heart to the people, died today at age 87. This is truly a tremendous loss. Kind of rips a hole in the fabric of conscious, loving, thinking, and responsible public American society.
I remember years ago when Ossie said that each generation must find its mission and fulfill it. I was still a teenager, looking for my life path and he bestowed me with the sense that I had not just a responsibility to myself, or my friends, but that I had a role to play in rousing my entire generation to fulfil our mission in history. He, I believe, was referring to the struggle to defend the life of Mumia Abu-Jamal and free him from prison.
I took this up with great enthusiasm and learned a tremendous amount in the process. This was the first time I went out and really got to know the lives and experiences of Black people in the ghettoes of the U.S. in a personal and intimate way. I was part of the first Philly Freedom Summer Project in 1995 where we took out the truth about Mumia's political railroad and learned and were transformed by the daily outrages and the bitterness as well as the enduring aspirations among the most oppressed for a better world, not just for themselves but for all those who have suffered injustice. This was the summer I became a revolutionary and I learned that the mission of my generation encompasses and goes beyond saving the life of Mumia.
But those words of Ossie stayed with me - and I remember clearly seeing him, and listening, as he took his time at the mic each time he attended demonstrations. He didn't have to be there - but his choice to be lent us all such strength and confidence, amplified the voices of those who are never heard, and infused his own convictions.
He was a man with such a solid sense of moral authority - he would take his time and say what he meant and he left no impression that he didn't mean every word he said, every time. I could tell immediately why he was the one asked to deliver the oration at Malcolm X's funeral.
Ossie found his place among the best and the bravest of his generation and mine. There is much more to be said. Many will say it. I just want to register my grief at a tremendous loss - for Ruby Dee, for his family and friends, for all those he touched, and for our whole planet.