Ex-Convict for Peace
On the night of Tuesday, February 3, 2009, U.S. Public Broadcasting Station ( PBS ) Thirteen.org , a TV station purely funded by the American public and foundations with very little commercials, featured, under its Independent Lens series, Adjust Your Color, giving us the remarkable life of African American 2-time Grammy-Award winner radio/tv host Petey Greene in a nutshell.
Petey was born in a blighted neighborhood in Washington, D.C.. His father was a con artist and his mother was a prostitute. He was brought up by his loving grandmother who served as an anchor in his life. In 1960, he was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to an 10-year prison term at the Lorton facility in Virginia.. While there, he used his gift with words and sense of humor to ease his way out of trouble and earn his role as official prison disc jockey, entertaining both his fellow inmates and the bored security officers with his raw, “ shock jock “ style which was to become the template for later generations of radio talk show hosts like Howard Stern who would consider him a “ genius. “ They liked him so much in prison that he would not let him go!
Upon release after parole on good behavior, he went straight to D.C.’s WOL-AM Radio’s Dewey Hughes ( to get a job ) who reluctantly helped him. One surprising day, the D.C. residents heard a familiar voice on their radio.. He called a spade a spade and urged his fellow D.C. natives to give up alcohol, drugs, crime, and venereal disease which have all victimized him. One of his memorable quotes was, “ I had no problem drinking; but I had problem stopping. “ His long prison stay also made him resolve never to go back again as he watched young men being sexually abused by older inmates.
Mr.Greene inspired people to do better, one of whom is the famous boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard who, at 14 years old, heard Petey urged him on radio to keep it up as he was working for his Golden Gloves tournament. They later became friends.
Mr. Greene commanded so much respect later on that he was invited to one of President Jimmy Carter’s Gala dinners in the White House. Later, he told a newspaper that he stole a spoon as souvenir to afflict the comfortable, so to speak. He also amusingly remarked there was too much artillery ( 3 spoons, 3 forks, 3 knives ) at the dinner table. He was not afraid to speak truth to power.
He later had a national audience when he became a pioneering tv show host on Black Entertainment Television ( BET )…. reaching out to people of all colors.
But what really struck me as his seminal contribution for peace was his singular appeal over radio to the Washington, D.C. community to stop the mob violence in the aftermath of the horrendous killing of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968. Here was a man with no official government position, no temporal power, no army, no police forces… and he single-handedly stopped the breakdown of law, order, mayhem, and destruction in the nation’s capital. Among other things, he said we become “ old men “ when violence visits our neighborhood. He appealed to the heart of his fellow citizens and he connected at a crucial time.
When he died in the winter of 1984, some 10,000 mourners returned the favor and honored him during the funeral, braving the cold, what observers said was the biggest crowd ever for an unelected person in D.C. !!! Now, that’s leadership for peace. But he always looked back to his grandmother who gave him love as a young boy.
Something to ponder: How can I make my little corner of the world a more peaceful place to live in? Is there someone who needs my understanding and care so he/she can have inner peace; thus, have insight into his/her life... and find new direction/purpose?
Blessed are the peacemakers; they shall be called children of God. – Beatitudes
Works of love are works of peace – Mother Teresa