Unsung Hero

By Walik Edwards
Updated: December 20, 2005

“Too young to understand what was happening to us – So came a voice calling my name – Told me to run, run away from the shame” – “Someone to Believe In,”

— Nuclear Valdez.

Richard Pryor

SAN FRANCISCO — Everyone’s heard about Richard Pryor’s famous take on his trip to Africa and denouncing the “N” word, and readers of my work know that was the defining moment for me not to use the word, even though it wasn’t in my vocabulary prior to hearing Mr. Pryor’s speech.

Over the years, it has been my “I Had A Dream” speech. Outside of that “clean underwear in case of emergency” spiel my mother gave me, I’m not sure if anything else really stuck with me like Richard Pryor’s denouncement did.

This isn’t a plea to the masses to annihilate the word once and for all, but I will make a point in regard to all the people who spoke in public on his behalf, and said they respected him.

Respect comes with one percentage: 100%.

In other words, you can’t truly respect someone, give praise to them, and do what they wouldn’t do. That’s more like, “he made me laugh, but all that other stuff is jive.”

Roll like that, all, but bury that word “respect” because you’re far from it.

His greatest gifts were making us laugh, and through the smoky resonance of insight, he made us think when he decided to teach. We never saw the punch coming, but like me, the blow stayed on me like it was yesterday – a blow that knocked some sense into me, I suppose.

The un-famous like me, our voices aren’t big enough where this latest scribble of mine would rank in the Top 1000 of “Meaningful Things Said In The Wake of the Death of Richard Pryor,” but a mantra of mine is: “When you feel strongly about something, let it out, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody on purpose.”

Richard Pryor’s goal was to make us laugh, and have his own definition of a full life, but he slipped in changing the sensibilities of a young boy in the Bronx, putting me on the path of a further understanding of who I am, who my people are, and the world around me.

I might have gotten there by myself, but we can all use a good push.

Thanks, Rich.