Where is Barry Gordy When We Need Him?: The Case for a Finishing School in the Black Entertainment Industry

In the biopic of Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene Jr., there is a when he has finagled his way onto the radio and offers what was then shocking, yet accurate and verifiable, commentary about Motown’s Barry Gordy. “Petey” Greene relates Gordy’s formula for success, he alleges that the record executive would go into the ghetto, get a few talented youth, teach them how to speak before the media, sing, and dance prior to sending them out into the entertainment industry to bring him back “a whole lot of money.”

The process that “Petey” Greene alludes to is Motown Records vaunted “finishing school”; it provided talented ghetto with a semblance of education and taught them “how to be” in front of the media and a adoring public. As a lover of African-American people, if provided with one wish it would be the creation of an excellent finishing school aimed at teaching this latest generation of entertainers what they ‘ought to be and ought to do’.

This post is in response to the recent comments by Young Thug, a rising rapper who has capitalized escaped all categorization; a tactic that has helped keep him in front of an adoring national Young Thug 2audience. Unfortunately for Young Thug, it is his celebrity status that revealed to all his inability to understand anything. At a recent celebrity event, this young man was asked a simple and appropriate question of “What do you think needs to be changed in the way black men are policed in America?”

Obviously this query flows from the recent string of murders of Black men in America by law enforcement officers. This hot button issue should have been discussed by now, if only in a superficial manner, by the entire African-American community of which Young Thug is a member. To the dismay of everyone who witnessed the event, Young Thug responded Leave that over with them critics, and the Laws and all that ol’ shit. We havin’ fun, we iced out, we havin’ money, that’s how we doin’ it.

I cringed at his response, not because it was unexpected, rather because of what it reveals about this latest generation of Black entertainers. Unbeknownst to most, we are currently experiencing an unprecedented moment in Black entertainment; that being, our most significant popular culture icons have no relevance beyond Belafontesinging, dancing, and acting. Such an existence runs contrary to the traditional role of our stars. One only needs to take a moment to review the storied history of activism and relevance emanating from figures such as Paul Robeson, Harry Belafonte, Richard Pryor, Sidney Poitier, Lena Horne, and even Bill Cosby, they would see who our stars are at their best.

I am certain that Paul Robeson or Lena Horne would have refused to take part in the “ice bucket” challenge if they were not allowed to Lena Hornehighlight the prevalence of Sickle Cell Anemia among their own population, a step that innumerable stars from Regina Hall to Morris Chestnut need to learn.

As much as it pains me to say it, it is time that we send all of these highly talented, yet woefully apolitical individuals to a finishing school similar to the one that Motown Records operated. If nothing else, their understanding of the principle of “to whom much is given, much is required” would be a quantum leap forward for them. I must add a special note to Young Thug, when these classes begin you make sure you are sitting front and center for each lecture, you of all people should definitely not miss a single word.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III


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