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‘Daughter of the Struggle’ performance draws laughter, tears at Mother Khadijah Farrakhan Children’s Village fundraiser

By James G. Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: May 18, 2018 - 11:26:08 AM

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Ayanna Gregory, daughter of civil rights activist, humanitarian and groundbreaking comedian the late Dick Gregory performs her one woman stage play, “Daughter of the Struggle” at Muhammad University of Islam on the grounds of the National Center, headquarters of the Nation of Islam. Ms. Gregory’s performance chronicled her reflections on the powerful life and legacy of her father and his impact on the world.

CHICAGO—The late, great civil rights icon Dick Gregory wasn’t at Muhammad University of Islam during the Mother Khadijah Farrakhan Children’s Village fundraiser, but you sure could feel his spirit.

The featured entertainment May 13 was Ayanna Gregory and her one-woman play, “Daughter of the Struggle,” that brings her relationship with her father and his commitment to the civil rights movement to life.

The youngest daughter of 10 children, Ayanna Gregory demonstrated diverse talents as a singer, dancer, impressionist and actor. Speaking through different characters throughout the performance as well as through her own voice, the multi-media performance starts with a film clip of Dick Gregory leading a march, despite the threat of police and White aggression against marchers.

Mother Khadijah Farrakhan and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan enjoy the performance. The play was a fundraiser for the Mother Khadijah Farrakhan Children’s Village.

As the film transitions to a stage set up as a living room scene, Ayanna’s character capsulizes the magnitude of her childhood experience and how important her father was to her and the movement: “I carry a legacy of strength, courage and resilience,” she says after naming important Black leaders in America. “I sacrificed my father, so the world can have him.”

Through a child character of a girl clutching a doll, the actor describes the trauma children faced growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, of being thrown in paddy wagons. She later described her own fear of walking across a bridge as a 14-year-old while soldiers waited on the other side. She was comforted by the voice of an elderly woman who held her close and told her to close her eyes as they marched.

Images of the iconic Dick Gregory. Graphic: MGN ONline

In a performance that drew laughter and tears from the audience, she described the family’s reaction to Mr. Gregory’s decision to move the family from Chicago to a large farm in Massachusetts and phone calls from White people who would threaten her father’s life.

She described reading post cards from her father and then discarding them in the trash, for which her mother Lillian chided her for not knowing the importance of his work and sacrifice.

What became clear to many was how much most people don’t know about Dick Gregory. Described as an author, comedian, actor and freedom fighter, he was called the “Jackie Robinson of comedy,” as he broke down barriers for comedians like Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy. Mr. Gregory once refused to appear on the popular “Tonight Starring Jack Paar” television show unless allowed to sit on the couch for an interview after his performance like White guests. Mr. Parr conceded. Mr. Gregory was the first comic to be allowed to perform in White nightclubs.

Ayanna Gregory’s performance was powerful. Photos: Haroon Rajaee

At the height of his popularity in the entertainment world, Mr. Gregory began to speak out forcefully and participate in the civil rights struggle. To the surprise of many, he would refuse to endorse products and would turn over checks to the movement, many times putting the family in financial difficulty.

It was apparent to most in the audience how similar the life sacrifices made by Mr. Gregory were to the sacrifices made by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and his family. That aspect was demonstrated during a question and answer session where Minister Farrakhan, sitting with Mother Khadijah, expressed the joy he felt from the performance. He also paid great tribute to Mother Khadijah, who he said held the family together as he also gave his life to the liberation struggle of Black people.

“Tonight, I didn’t know what you were going to do … but you gave us so much more than we thought or hoped that we would experience,” the Minister said. “You made us to see dad, made us to see mom, and you made us to see the great sacrifice that he made, that nothing was more important to him than the movement for the freedom not only of us but of all humanity.

Young actors Tiffany Boone and Shamon Brown from the television series “The Chi” were presented with the Children’s Village Youth Achievement Award.”

“[My] children are children of sacrifice, children of suffering, who could say, like you, that their father was gone a lot. But this sister [Mother Khadijah], like your mother, was the mortar that kept the family together,” he said to applause from the audience.

“The way you presented your mother and your father was so special. Every father would hope to have … children that are blessed to understand him through time. And when momma picked up those post cards, and when momma did all that she did so magnificently, so beautifully, so humbly, not seeking fame or glory, Mother Khadijah was just like that. I can see why your father loved your mother so very much,” he said.

Left to right: Event producer Donn Todd, Maria Farrakhan Muhammad, Ayanna Gregory, Betsy Jean Farrakhan and Donna Farrakhan Muhammad.

Ayanna Gregory explained that Mr. Gregory cried when he first saw the play. He told Ayanna that his contemporaries and friends Martin Luther King, Malcolm X or Medgar Evers never got the opportunity to hear their children talk about their fathers.

“It never dawned on me how important that was, that I do that while he was in this incarnation. I’m so grateful that I didn’t wait,” she said.

She also expressed great appreciation to the Minister who performed her father’s eulogy. She said her father only accepted two calls while on his death bed, and one was from the Minister.

“My father couldn’t really talk but he listened, and Honorable Minister, what you said gave him so much peace that hours later he floated on to the ether in spiritual form. When you talked to him it gave him the peace that allowed him to transition with a grace and glory … and while my heart was heavy, it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. He was so at peace,” she said.

At the beginning of the program, Mother Khadijah and Min. Farrakhan were presented Humanitarian Awards and youth cast members Shamon Brown and Tiffany Boone from the popular television series “The Chi” were presented the Children’s Village Youth Achievement Award.

A children’s animated cartoon produced by Negative To Positive Inc., was shown. CEO Ernest X of Houston told The Final Call it was produced to give children options for what they see on television and was the first of many that will also help raise funds for Mother Khadijah’s Children’s Village.

Min. Farrakhan with Ayanna Gregory and (R) Mother Khadijah Farrakhan with Ayanna Gregory
The first cartoon focused on farming and teaching children where “groceries” come from and the importance of growing your own food.

Mother Farrakhan’s Children’s Village is a centerpiece of the Nation of Islam’s Saviours’ Day convention and open to all children who participate. It has created a space specifically for children and families and is a favorite each year. It was created out of the Nation of Islam first lady’s love for the Nation’s youth and families, with something from the tiniest Muslims in strollers to pre-teens and teens. It includes games, rides, entertainment, gifts, youth performances and is a mix of fun-filled and educational activities. Books have been given away for free as young ones learned about things like Muslim prayer and careers in aviation.

“We enjoyed the 20th Anniversary of Mother Khadijah Farrakhan Children’s Village so much because we learned so much,” said Maria Farrakhan Muhammad, who has played an integral role in the creation, development and execution of the Children’s Village. The “performance by Ayanna Gregory was heartfelt, strong, and powerful. She told a story about the civil rights movement that she lived and still lives. It was beautiful but sad because racism and the struggle for equality still goes on,” she said.

“Her story parallels the life of me and my family, like having a father that you had to share with the world and understanding that his mission in life became your mission not knowing our struggle and pain. We also have a mother that became the mortar and the brick that held the house together until our father returned,” she continued. “This is why we celebrate our mothers, because if it were not for her strength things would be different.

“We have suffered all because my father wants to tell the truth, he wants to put Islam in every nook and cranny of the earth. Because of his mission he has received death threats. As children, we were taught by our parents how to drop to the floor and keep our heads down if we heard gun shots,” Maria Farrakhan Muhammad recalled.

“We were taught how to get out of a burning house, because our home was fire bombed. When we were children and still today some of us can’t do the things that we were trained for all of our lives, just to put food on the table, because we stand for the truth, freedom, justice and equality for our people. We say all praise is due to Allah because he gives us the strength to keep fighting the fight, keep walking the walk, and talking the talk. And we still stand! All praise is due to Allah. Allah-U-Akbar! (God is great!)”

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