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Motown Founder Berry Gordy Retires

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Berry Gordy paved the way for minorities in a way that had never been seen before. His Motown Sound is now known as the sound that changed America, helping to bring together the nation then divided by race and segregation. As an African-American leader, businessman, entrepreneur, and important and historical agent of change, Berry Gordy is an inspiration and role model especially for African-Americans like myself,” stated Music Producer Linnette A. Harrigan.

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Known as “The Chairman,” Berry Gordy, the founder and architect of Motown Records — an American original that arguably featured the most exceptional assembly of talent in music history — has retired. (Photo: Screen capture / YouTube.com)

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

From the Miracles, Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Lionel Richie, and the shaping of the original Little Steven, to being the genius behind the launch of the man that would become known as “the King of Pop,” Berry Gordy long ago indelibly cemented his place as one of the true legends of popular music.

Known as “The Chairman,” Gordy is the founder and original architect of Motown Records — an American original that arguably featured the most exceptional assembly of talent in music history — has retired.

He announced his retirement during the 60th-anniversary celebration of Motown that took place in Detroit last month. “I have come full circle, and it’s only appropriate [to make the announcement] while here in Detroit, the city where my fairy tale happened with all of you,” Gordy said.

Sixty years ago, long before the lottery’s slogan of “A Dollar and a Dream,” was appropriated to describe “rags to riches” success, Gordy put up what little cash he had and launched Motown Records, forever and better known by its simpler singular moniker: “Motown,” out of his small Motor City home.

The determined businessman demanded the best from everyone passing through the illustrious halls of Motown.

Among his initial signings was The Miracles featuring Smokey Robinson. Smokey would go on to become a recording legend, but he is also the songwriting genius who penned tunes for artists like Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye.

In 2001, Gordy told this reporter that the secret to success was, in part, understanding who to trust. Gordy made no bones that the foremost person he believed in is himself. However, he also knew when to comply.

“Her recollection is absolutely correct,” Gordy said with a respectful laugh when relayed a story told by Lula Mae Hardaway. Hardaway, who died in 2006, said she was probably the most hardened person Gordy had ever negotiated with. The negotiation involved her young son who would soon become known to the entire world as Stevie Wonder.

“For a year, I refused to sign a contract to let Steve work for Motown because I wasn’t sure if they’d provide a proper tutor for him to get a good education,” said Hardaway, who penned her life story in the 2002 book, “Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway, Stevie Wonder’s Mother.”

“We were poor, but I wasn’t stupid, and I wouldn’t be taken advantage of,” Hardaway told this reporter.

“We could certainly use the money Berry was offering, which really wasn’t much, but it wasn’t about the money, even though when we did finally agree to sign, it was a whole lot more than what he originally offered,” Hardaway stated.

Gordy said he knew he was getting a genius in the young Stevie Wonder, and a decade after his initial signing, Gordy and Wonder would ink what at the time was the largest contract in Motown history.

Along with Robinson and Wonder, Motown would produce an extensive roster of hitmakers.

From Marvin Gaye’s groundbreaking “What’s Going On?” to the Diana Ross and the Supremes “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” the hits came nearly every day.

Perhaps Gordy’s most shrewd signing was that of the Jackson Five.

While the group never won a Grammy Award and enjoyed a handful of No. 1 hits, it was its lead singer that Gordy took a particular interest in.

“When people ask, ‘Did I know that Michael Jackson would become as big as he did?’ I tell them, ‘Why of course,’” Gordy stated. “Why wouldn’t I believe he’d break records and set new standards? No one worked harder, and no one worked as often as Michael Jackson.”

Even though his solo success came under a different record label, Jackson would rock the world with the ultra-successful “Off The Wall” album. The singer would then cement himself as perhaps the greatest pop music star in history with the release of his 1982 album, “Thriller.”

Two years after “Thriller,” Lionel Richie [former lead singer of the Commodores] released “Can’t Slow Down.”

The recording became the biggest selling album in Motown history.

It was the last major record under Gordy’s leadership.

He sold the label in 1988, and until this year, Gordy remained in the entertainment industry producing Broadway musicals and feature films.

“Motown records is one of the most successful Black-owned record labels of all time,” said Aaron Douglas of R.E.A.L. Music Entertainment.

“Its history is in concrete because of the mega artists and because Berry Gordy had an eye for up-and-coming talent. …a Black owner giving a Black up-and-coming talented artists a chance to show their talent to the world and to be a proven success over and over again. This would be a blueprint for other young aspiring Black people. Seeing is believing,” Douglas stated.

Gordy made a difference not just in the music industry, but also in the world, said music producer Linnette A. Harrigan.

“The Motown Sound has impacted millions worldwide, and it has influenced the popular music we hear even to this day.

“Berry Gordy paved the way for minorities in a way that had never been seen before. His Motown sound is now known as the sound that changed America, helping to bring together the nation then divided by race and segregation.

“As an African-American leader, businessman, entrepreneur, and important and historical agent of change, Berry Gordy is an inspiration and role model especially for African-Americans like myself,” Harrigan stated.

She added: “His legacy should and could never be forgotten.”

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U.S. Business Leaders Step Up to Fight Inequities in the South

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

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Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr./ NNPA Newswire

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

This toxic atmosphere has left them incapable of addressing pressing, yet ingrained issues like the racial wealth gap, the digital divide, and vast inequalities in everything from health care to home ownership.

With COVID-19 still an omnipresent concern and the country’s recovery still very much in jeopardy, individuals, families, and communities – particularly communities of color throughout the South – are struggling to deal with issues that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

From impediments to wealth creation opportunities and a dearth of education and workforce development to a lack of access to reliable broadband, substandard housing, and inadequate political representation, communities of color have suffered an outsized toll during the ongoing public health crisis.

Yet political leaders can’t even agree on basic facts that would allow the nation to implement a coherent national strategy for combatting a pandemic that appears to be entering a new wave amid the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant that is currently ravaging parts of the South.

Against that disillusioning backdrop, there is at least some reason for hope. Moving to fill the vacuum created by the inaction of our political class, a group of business leaders in the technology and investment sectors have embarked on a far-reaching – and perhaps unprecedented – campaign to address the social inequities and systemic racism that has historically plagued our country’s southern communities.

Known as the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI), the campaign was founded by financial technology company PayPal, the investment firm Vista Equity Partners (Vista), and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

SCI was formed to work with local elected officials and advocacy groups to tackle the ubiquitous problems of structural racism and inequalities facing communities of color in six communities throughout the South. SCI notes that these areas – Atlanta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., Charlotte, N.C., Houston, Texas, Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans, La., – were chosen in part because they are home to around 50% of the country’s Black population and are where some of the greatest disparities exist.

SCI is aiming to drive long-term change, as outlined by PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, Vista CEO Robert F. Smith and BCG CEO Rich Lesser. 

In Atlanta, for example, SCI is working to bridge the wealth gap that exists among the region’s African-American residents. While there is a strong Black business community in the city, and high levels of Black educational achievement thanks to the regional presence of several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and the voice of the Black press, there is still an extremely low level of Black entrepreneurship and business ownership with only 6% of employer firms being Black-owned.

To remedy this disparity, SCI is working with the Southern Economic Advancement Project to create entrepreneurship hubs and accelerator programs to increase the number of minority-owned businesses. The corporations behind SCI are also using their networks to help other companies work with minority-owned supply companies.

In Alabama, SCI is seeking to bridge the massive digital divide in an urban area where 450,000 households are without connection to the internet. In order to tackle the crisis, SCI is leveraging relationships with local schools and libraries to distribute laptops and service vouchers. Another tact SCI is taking is to partner with the owners of multi-unit buildings in low-income neighborhoods to install free public Wi-Fi for residents.

The lack of access to capital is another reason Black communities throughout the South have been traditionally underbanked. In Memphis, where 47% of Black households are underbanked, SCI is partnering with Grameen America to cover the $2 million per year per branch start-up cost to build brick-and-mortar banks in minority communities.

This alone will provide 20,000 women access to more than $250 million per year in financing.

Beyond these initiatives, SCI is partnering with groups like the Greater Houston Partnership and the Urban League of Louisiana to provide in-kind support to improve job outcomes for minority college students, expand access to home financing through partnerships with community development financial institutions, and harness the power of technology to expand health care access in underserved urban and rural neighborhoods.

The issues facing these communities throughout the South are not new nor will they be fixed overnight.

Fortunately, SCI is taking a long-term approach that is focused on getting to the root of structural racism in the United States and creating a more just and equitable country for every American.

A once-in-a-century pandemic and a social justice movement not seen since the 1960s were not enough to break the malaise and rancorous partisanship in Washington. Fortunately, corporate leaders are stepping up and partnering with local advocates and non-profit groups to fix the problem of systemic injustice in the U.S.

We, therefore, salute and welcome the transformative commitments of the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI). There is no time to delay, because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so accurately said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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