REMEMBERING BRIAN CLAY (1969-2024): In his own words

Revisiting Clay's 2018 Op-Ed: Embracing the Rebirth of The Slick, Rejecting the Rebirth of Hate


Editor’s Note: Shortly after I accepted this responsibility as Interim Editor here at the TSD, I got a message from Brian Clay, inviting me to the latest — and sadly, now, the final taping of his local community affairs talk show, “The Brian Clay Chronicles” on Feb. 28. I had a conflict, but would have loved to be there for his interviews with Mayor Paul Young and other luminaries. So it was shocking on Tuesday, when I learned he had died after a long illness. Late last night, my predecessor, Karanja Ajanaku, emailed me this column Brian wrote in 2018 that he felt reflected who Brian Clay was, what was important to him, and why he was an inspiration to so many. After reading it, I couldn’t agree more. — Lee Eric Smith

By Brian Clay, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

In 1992, I graduated from LeMoyne-Owen College, earning a Bachelor of Arts in political science, with a minor in English. I then went to work as a legislative assistant for then-Memphis City Councilman Shep Wilbun.

Brian Clay
Brian Clay

I felt on top of the world – a new degree, working for a progressive political figure, Dr. Willie W. Herenton had just become the first African American elected Memphis mayor (thanks to the Memphis People’s Convention) and the Bluff City seemed to be on the upswing.

During all of that goodness, another cool thing was the country’s number one song – “The Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat) – by the alternative hip-hop group, Digable Planets. It was the first single from the mild-mannered, jazz-rap trio’s debut album, emerging in the early 90s while the Southern rap era was giving birth to Eight Ball & MJG.

The cool vibe of “The Rebirth of Slick” resonated with me and many of my friends. It was the sound of freedom and an embrace of various cultures and lifestyles of a new generation, becoming the anthem for many – African Americans, white people and others – during the evolution of Generation X.

It was an era when things hoped for seemed possible. For me, the cool and melodic groove symbolized the generation that would put the philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the other civil rights warriors into practice. Late President John F. Kennedy’s desire to see one nation would happen during this era. The United States would be, as the late President Ronald Reagan declared, that “Shining city on the hill.”

Fast Forward to 2008 when many of my college classmates were getting married, finishing graduate school and becoming viable parts of the community. Barack Obama, a junior U.S. senator from Chicago is the first African American elected president, signaling to many a major step toward long-delayed equality in this country.

It wasn’t long, however, before Obama was engulfed in a backlash that shook many African Americans to the realization that we were fooling ourselves in thinking that racial equality had either arrived or was just around the corner.

President Obama and his ultra-classy wife, Michelle, both Ivy-league educated, withstood vile indignities. Meanwhile, successes racked up – the Affordable Health Care Act, the end of Osama Bin Laden and progressive domestic policies.

However, our progressive thinkers underestimated the contempt that closeted racists had for the progression made under Obama. The thought of Donald J. Trump defeating Hillary Clinton, well, never felt real. Surely his list of race-based moves would derail his bid.

Nope. And his continuation of such tactics as President 45 is numbing. Republicans have empowered this racist, narcissistic President to spew lies and open the gateway for hate to become in vogue – again.

Or, maybe it never went away. Fifty years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Memphis, America has the whitest White House and the most racially exclusive cadre of presidential appointees since the presidency of Herbert Hoover.

Do I think most white people hate people of color? Heavens no!!! However, racism can be practiced without hate.

White people – those who perpetrate racism directly and those who stand idly by – have the ability to overlook racism for a variety of reasons. They can work for a company knowing that their employers would never hire a black person. They ignore racist remarks by friends or relatives simply because they don’t want to disturb the relationship.

How can any person, especially African Americans, stand by and accept children being locked up in modern-day concentration camps while their parents are locked away in other facilities in the name of “immigration reform?” Sounds like a new form of slavery to me!

As much as I love the song “The Rebirth of Slick,” I reject the rebirth of hate. I choose to follow the words of Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA):

“Already, you have members of your Cabinet that have been booed out of restaurants, who have protesters taking up at their house who sang, ‘No peace, no sleep. No peace, no sleep.’ And guess what, we’re going to win this battle … so let’s stay the course. Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up.

“And if you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere … Mr. President, we will see you every day, every hour of the day, everywhere that we are to let you know you cannot get away with this.”

(Brian Clay was founder/executive director of Greater Memphis Media, Inc. and host of The Brian Clay Chronicles Lecture Series.)