When we think about musical icons, Stevie Wonder definitely is one of the greatest of all time! His career spans nearly six decades and is still going strong. Today we will be sharing some little known facts about his life.
He wasn’t born blind.
Stevie Wonder’s (1950 – ) lost his sight due to medical complications. As an infant he was placed in an incubator where he received too much oxygen. He was also born with an eye disorder, retinopathy that was related to his premature birth. He was born 6 weeks early. This error combined with the complications associated with his premature birth resulted in permanent blindness.
He was the youngest solo artist to have a #1 Billboard song.
“Fingertips – Part 2”, reached #1 on the Billboard Top 100 when he was just 13 years old. The song also reached #1 the R & B charts in the U.S. This was also a first!
Detroit, MI is known for being an important stop on the Underground Railroad. You may not know that people were also enslaved in Detroit and surrounding areas. Many roads, schools, and places are named after wealthy slave-owning families. If you live in or near Detroit, you will recognize these names, Macomb, Campau, Beaubien, McDougall, Brush, Cass, Hamtramck, Dequindre, and Groesbeck Livernois, Rivard, and many others. From its founding in 1750, slavery existed during Detroit’s existence as a French, British, and then American settlement. The Burton Collection of the Detroit Public Library has an original ledger book of William Macomb. The ledger lists his property and includes over 20 enslaved individuals. The first mayor of Detroit, John R. Williams (two streets bear his name), also owned slaves along with priests of the Catholic Church in Detroit. The men who financed the Detroit Free Press were also former slave owners. The Free Press used its platform to support slavery prior to the Civil War.
People of African and Native/Indigenous descent were both enslaved in Detroit. Enslavement of native peoples occurred first. Slavery played an integral role in the relationship between European settlers and Native tribes. The Native system of enslavement involved taking captives to settle conflicts or build alliances. This would occur by women and children of rival factions being exchanged or given to confirm an alliance or settle a dispute. When the French arrived, they also adopted this practice to establish trade alliances with Native peoples as well. Native women were victims of labor trafficking and sexual violence. The enslaved were used as pawns to help bolster trading alliances between European settlers and Native tribes. Slavery continued to exist in the Northwest Territory (which included Michigan) even though it was abolished in 1787. Slave owners used loopholes or flat out ignored the law to maintain their ownership of the enslaved.
In August 2020, Jason Wright (1982 – ) was hired as the Washington Football Team president, making him the first Black president of an NFL team. Wright is also currently the youngest president of an NFL team. He spent seven years as a running back with the Atlanta Falcons, Arizona Cardinals, and Cleveland Browns. Wright earned an MBA from the University of Chicago. He then spent seven years at McKinsey and Company, where he focused on helping to turn around struggling companies.
Wright’s key focus in his new role will be improving team culture, addressing allegations of sexual harassment, and advancing its legacy after its name change. Wright is confident about his ability to make a positive impact. He states that the “psychological and emotional well-being” of his employees is his top priority. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Wright’s mother was a flight attendant, and his father was a civil rights activist and entrepreneur in the insurance industry. Wright is married and has two children
Esteban Hotesse (1919 – 1946) is the only known Latinx member of the Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen was a black military unit that saw combat during World War II. Hotesse was born in Moca, Dominican Republic and immigrated to the U.S. with his mother and younger sister in 1923. The family settled in Manhattan. Hotesse enlisted into the Army Air Corp in 1942. He was first assigned to the 619th Bombadier Squadron, which later merged with the 477th Bomdadier Group M in 1944. The 477th was one of the Tuskegee Airmen squadrons that remained stationed in the U.S. and did not see combat overseas. The 477th did, however have to combat racism and discrimination on U.S. soil. The 477th and 619th merged after the military leaders began receiving pressure to provide more opportunities for black soldiers to fill key positions in the air corp.
Civil Rights and Voting Rights trailblazer Fannie Lou Hamer is well known for her activism. Hamer was unrelenting in her efforts to secure economic and political freedom for black people living in the Mississippi delta. Hamer was around 45 when she became active in the civil rights movement. Her organizing and efforts resulted in her and her husband being fired from their employment as sharecroppers. Hamer fought tirelessly until she died in 1977. She was only 59 years old. Many people may be unaware that she died from breast cancer. After a radical mastectomy, Hamer would stuff her bra with socks, unable to afford a prosthesis. Friend and fellow civil rights activist Eleanor Holmes-Norton had her fitted for a prosthesis since she could not afford it.
Founded in 1954 by husband and wife team, George and Joan Johnson, Johnson Products was the first African American owned company to be publicly traded in the United States. Headquartered in Chicago, IL, the company manufactured and distributed cosmetic and hair care products.
The Johnsons reportedly started the company with a $250 business loan. George Johnson was initially denied at one bank branch because bankers thought his idea would not be profitable. So he reportedly went to another branch and told them that he wanted to take his family on vacation. This time, the loan was approved. The Johnsons created and packaged the products in their basement before opening a production plant in Chicago during the1960’s.
Dr. Margaret Morgan Lawrence (1914 – 2019) was a trailblazing pediatrician and psychoanalyst. Born in New York City, Lawerence grew up in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and later returned to New York to complete high school. Her interest in pursuing a career in mental health and medicine resulted from her family’s grief when her older brother died of a congenital medical condition before his first birthday. This was 2 years before Lawrence was born. Her family’s grief motivated her to pursue a medical career, hoping that she could save other children from meeting the same fate as her brother.
In 1932, Lawrence arrived in Ithaca, NY as the sole black undergraduate at Cornell University. She was not allowed to live on campus due to her race. Instead, she lived with a white family and did domestic work in exchange for room and board. Lawrence completed her undergraduate degree with excellent grades but was denied admission to Cornell’s Medical School due to her race. She was later accepted to Columbia University Of Physicians and Surgeons under the condition that white patients could refuse treatment. She was its only black student of 104 total students in 1940 and one of only ten women. At Columbia, she was mentored by Dr. Charles Drew, the only black faculty member, and the modern-day blood bank founder.
Today, I came across a quote I shared on social media on “predatory blending”. It is just as true today as it was 11 years ago and inspired more reflection to flow from my pen:
Beware of “Predatory Blending”. Your associations should embrace you not erase you. -Enid Gaddis, Black Mail Founder
I created the term, “predatory blending” to describe the assimilation that can be expected from black people or other people of color as we navigate, infiltrate, integrate, and situate ourselves in various settings from employment, entrepreneurship, community involvement, civic engagement, education, etc.
There are times when our “acceptance” or even or “eligibility” for inclusion is based on our ability to assimilate. Assimilation leads to erasure. When assimilation is required for acceptance, the often hidden but powerful forces of “predatory blending” are at work.
Don’t allow your wisdom, wit, and work to be manipulated and re-worked so that your influence and imprint is watered down and unrecognizable. Don’t let systems and shysters mine the riches of your intellect and innovation co-opting it for causes that refuse to accept the totality and phenomenality of your essence and presence. Bring the fullness of YOU into these spaces. Refuse to be erased.
On March 5, 2020, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) highlighted the difference in treatment that he experienced in 2012 when he wore a hoodie and sunglasses on the house floor to protest the death of Trayvon Martin. Rush was forcibly removed from the house floor by the seargent-at-arms for violating its decorum code. Fast forward to 2020. Republican Rep. Matthew Gaetz came onto the floor with a full gas mask to call attention to the COVID-19 virus. While he was asked to remove the gas mask, he was not removed. Gaetz is white and Rush is African American.
In response to the difference in treatment, Rush tweeted, “In 2012, I wore a hoodie on the House Floor to make a statement about the deadly consequences of racial profiling. On Wednesday, @RepMattGaetz wore a gas mask in the chamber, making light of an epidemic that has killed 14 Americans.Guess which one of us was forcibly removed.” Gaetz defended his actions by saying that the gas mask was “medically necessary”. However, gas masks are not normally considered to be medically necessary.