I was talking to someone the other day about people who are admired and those who are actually worthy of being admired (they’re not the same thing, believe me).
We determined that there really aren’t many people we admire for the right reasons. There are too many worth mentioning so-so performers, musical acts, (un-)reality “stars,” and just plain ol’ losers that, for whatever reason, people look up to.
I’m not referring to the teachers who taught us how to read; the crossing guard who watched over us daily; the ministers who teach us about the Good Book—all great examples and those whom we should admire. I’m referring to those on the big screen, little screen, or even who might appear on your iPod.
I told my friend that, offhand, I could find just one person in the industry who is noteworthy of my admiration. In fact, I said, “If I ever met her, I’d blubber like an idiot!”
Hence, I pay homage to the great Ruby Dee.
“Ruby Dee? Really?” she asked.
“Absolutely. She represents all that there is [and still can be] of my performing years. Her life made my life possible,” I proudly proclaimed.
I cherish Ruby Dee. This isn’t to say that I don’t admire Harry Belafonte, Sydney Poitier, the late Ossie Davis (Ruby’s husband) and all the rest of those who came before me. It’s just that, point for point, for me at least Mrs. Davis personifies the struggles, pain, endurance, and excelling virtue of many African Americans in the industry. In those early years, it was nearly impossible for any one of us to be portrayed as someone other than “the help.” We were slaves, maidservants, menservants, and any other occupation associated with servitude. And that was just on the screen.
Off the screen, most Americans didn’t see us for anything other than that. That’s the reality. Just watch any film or TV series prior to the 1970s. (Note: I-Spy and Julia do not count!)
But I digress. To get back to my point: at a time when we were actually living those days, there were the heroes, the dignified icons (like Ruby Dee, Harry Belafonte, Sydney Poitier, and so many others) who waded in it, breathed it in deeply (and daily), had it thrown on them with a shovel, so that those after them (like me) could accomplish their goals, dreams, and desires of standing before an audience—not merely entertaining (as in minstrel shows)—but to stand proudly for one’s craft; the gifts we were given.
So this is a hearty shout out to Mrs. Ruby Dee Davis, my hero and mentor. While I never met you, I certainly have admired you … and you are worthy of (at least) that much.
With sincerest regards,
Judith Blair Brown, Harrisburg, PA