Dance With My Father
Daughter of Activist/Comedian Dick Gregory Talks About Being A "Daughter of the Struggle" And Her Recent Performance Saluting the Elder Leader
By PGS Media
There isn’t a 12 year old alive in America that doesn’t want to distance herself as far as is humanly possible from her parents—maybe her entire family.
At that age, Ayanna Gregory says she had many of those feelings. Add to that, she was very aware that her family was even more unusual than others.
“I hated being different as a child,” she said in an interview with Prince George’s Suite just after her performance “Daughter of the Struggle,” [see trailer] March 22 at Joe’s Movement Emporium. Ayanna is one of ten children whose father is one of the most prolific voices of the Civil Rights era. When he wasn’t nurturing his career in comedy or writing he was stoking the national conversation on issues of race and class or developing one of the most popular diet products in the nation or being a motivational speaker. Somewhere in there, Gregory managed to raise a family. But with Ayanna being one of the youngest, she didn’t understand exactly what he was doing or why the philosophies in their home were so different from her classmates’. She didn’t get it.
Now, in her 40s and a cultural intellectual in her own right, things are different (see “A Conversation With Ayanna Gregory”).
“Now, I say thank God I was that odd ball that grew up in a critically thinking family,” she says. In fact, her gratitude became the inspiration, in part for writing the one-woman performance tribute to the Gregory family.
“I wanted to publicly thank my father while he is still alive,” she said. “Malcom, Martin and Medgar never got a chance to hear their children hear talk about them. I wanted to do this now. It was a way of saying thank you mom and dad.”
She continues: “I wanted to talk about what it was like to have that microscope on us but it was also therapeutic. There were moments when I was too guarded about what to talk about it. It was also healing and purging. It was the first time we [siblings and I said] that we didn’t always know our dad and at times we didn’t always follow what he was teaching.”
Originally, the research had more to do with writing a family archive than a live performance. She referred to it as ‘Growing Up Gregory in NW DC.’
“It was a journey of uncovering and healing and then it seemed like it should hit the stage,” Gregory says.
That idea came in part from her colleague Ersky Freeman of the Ten Points Theater Company. “He said you are an actor and you are it using all of your gifts. [Since then] he has been on me to do a one woman show.
In their approach to social issues and message to their audiences, father and daughter are very different.
“I feel my way through,” Ayanna says. “I help people to connect with the moment and their spiritual base.” She acknowledges that her dad is far more the social analyst and his work helps America to understand its own struggle with race.
When asked about Ayanna’s work, Dick Gregory does what he has always done: expanded the conversation to a global paradigm.
“They have a new vibe,” Gregory says of Ayanna’s generation mentioning artists like Alicia Keys. “There are a lot of other people out there who do it differently. They have a different way but they are doing it. I’m her father. I know who she is. ”
PHOTO: FREE YVETTE BENJAMIN