His gift for gab obvious, as well as honed comedic timing and a unique social commentary on American politics and culture, comedian, author and Peabody Award-winner D.L. Hughley enthralled a packed house inside the university’s Business and Aerospace Building earlier this month during his Black History Month keynote address.
Introduced by fellow Omega Psi Phi fraternity brother Vincent Windrow, a friend and the university’s associate vice provost of Student Success, Hughley drew laughter throughout his 30-minute addressed followed by a longer and extensive Q&A session with the audience that delved into issues ranging from social media to U.S. politics, from confederate monuments to the NFL, and much more.
Before Hughley touched on these myriad topics, Windrow reminded the audience that Hughley was far more than just one of “The Original Kings of Comedy,” but an accomplished actor, highly successful syndicated radio host and more.
“He’s also a political and social commentator and what he has to say is important, what he has to say is poignant, and what he has to say is pointed not just toward our hearts to make us emotional, but to our minds to get us thinking in a different way,” Windrow said.
As expected, Hughley didn’t disappoint an audience expecting more than a bit of levity mixed with the biting social commentary he’s known for during the Feb. 3 livestreamed event.
“Relax, laugh it up. We’re risking our lives to be together,” Hughley deadpanned to the heavily masked audience inside the State Farm Lecture Hall. “Oh, I forgot, we’re in Tennessee. Covid ain’t real here,” he countered, drawing a round of raucous laughter.
But be quickly turned serious in homage to the occasion, noting that while there are those across the country who downplay the contributions of African Americans to this country’s history and culture:
“The simple fact is that there is no America without us,” he said. “Almost everything about the United States is really attributable to Black people, like how resilient we are, like how we set the culture.”
The event was sponsored by the MTSU Black History Month Committee, the School of Journalism and Strategic Media and the Distinguished Lecture Committee. It was coordinated by the Office of Intercultural and Diversity Affairs.
Here are a few highlights from Hughley’s appearance:
On the Coronavirus pandemic
“It’s funny because I think the last year and a half has showed us a lot of the disparities between us here in America. … Covid changed who we were. I think we saw ourselves as a Christian country, but during quarantine the churches were closed, but the liquor stores were open. You can Zoom Jesus, but you can’t Jack Daniels.”
“Have you ever noticed that (some of) the people who won’t wear a mask because God will protect them oftentimes carry a gun because he won’t? It’s like, ‘Why don’t you have a mask on?’ ‘God will protect me!’ ‘Then why are you carrying a gun?’ ‘What if he’s busy?’”
On slavery, Confederate monuments
“I think one of the things that is going on with us is (that) the notion of us is aspirational, the notion of us is that you can become anything you want, that you can ascend to the highest levels, is at odds with the reality of us.
“At a time when America doesn’t want to teach slavery in schools, they want a holiday to commemorate the end of it. Juneteenth always struck me as weird, because we asked for justice, but we got a three-day weekend instead. (laughter) ‘We’d like the police to stop killing us.’ ‘How about an extra day to barbecue?’”
“Our story in America is always a stark dichotomy of what should happen and what does. … Justice is an interesting word, because applied fairly, it’s a wonderful word. … But we know there’s a difference. When I hear people say we should let slavery go … you can’t tell me we should let slavery go when you hold on to the monuments of it.”
On Judge Donna Scott Davenport
Davenport is the longtime Rutherford County Juvenile Court judge who has come under intense fire after an investigative journalism project by WPLN Radio and Pro Publica revealed that Davenport had illegally arrested and jailed more than a thousand children.
In December, the county settled a class-action lawsuit over these practices for about $6 million, WPLN reported. Davenport announced last month that she will not seek reelection when her term ends in September.
“There was apparently a judge here who thought she could make up laws to send children to jail,” Hughley said. “The thing that struck me the most about that is that no one could do this in a vacuum, there had to be accomplices. There had to be people to look the other way. There had to be judges and jailers and lawyers and prosecutors, all sending people to jail and ruining their lives.”
On Younger generations
“I’ve never been more proud of what I’ve seen, in particularly young people like you, who understand that the only way out is through. It’s through education and through becoming educated people who are invested in our communities, who understand our place, who understand what our plight is, and that we are our answers. We have all of our answers. They are in us.
“And I am very proud to be here, not just because it’s Black History Month … we’re at a place in our country where we have to decide what we are. We have to decide where we’ll be. … And for Black people, for people of color in this country, the best way for us is forward.”
And in a final bit of wisdom for the younger generations:
“Do what wise people tell you to do,” he said. “When you’re younger more than likely you’ll want to be comfortable. But what you’ll learn is that comfortable is one of the most dangerous things on the face of the earth. … You’ll find yourself in an unfulfilled situation.”
Also, as part of his remarks, Hughley gave a shoutout to Jasmine Sanders, an MTSU alumna and the co-host of his top-ranked nationally syndicated radio show, “The D.L. Hughley Show.”
And Windrow shared a bit of history during Hughley’s introduction, reminding the crowd that noted historian Carter G. Woodson, also a member of Omega Psi Phi, started “Negro History Week” in the mid-1920s, the precursor to Black History Month.
To learn more about MTSU Black History Month activities, go to https://www.mtsu.edu/aahm/calendar.php.
— Jimmy Hart (Jimmy.Hart@mtsu.edu)