I had the awesome opportunity to interview activist, educator, and singer Ayanna Gregory. As the daughter of trailblazing comedian and activist Dick Gregory, she has lived a very interesting life. She recently performed at The King Center’s Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Ecumenical Commemorative Service in Atlanta, Georgia along with guest speakers Dr. Bernice A. King, Pastor David Yonggi Cho, Dr. Deborah A. Bartlett, Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
Keep reading below to find out what she had to share with Southern Laced…
Q: I know you are heavily into meditation. How important is meditation in connection with your music? Has it helped you on your musical journey?
A: As children, we did a lot of praying and meditating. I can remember us meditating in my parents’ room for hours even as a little girl. So fast forward to my adult years of meditation, I have begun to incorporate it into my music. A few years ago, I wrote a powerful women’s anthem entitled “Now” and it has several meditative chants layered in the background. They are subtle but you can feel it. Surrendering to the spiritual power of music has taught me that everything is interconnected. Often when I’m onstage, I am able to presence the ancestors coming through me. This is, for me, a meditation.
When you realize you have a gift and you’re using it for healing and the betterment of society, the universe really works through you. When I get offstage, I feel like I’ve been to church. In many ways, it feels like a meditation. Many people say prayer is when you’re talking to God and meditation is when you’re listening to God.
Q: You do so much as an activist and singer. If you could be remembered for one thing what would it be?
A: I’d want to be remembered as a healing voice. I do three things in equal parts: I’m a singer. (1) I travel with my band doing music. (2) I do motivational work with young people. (3) I tour my one-woman show, Daughter Of The struggle which is about growing up as a child of the Civil Rights movement.
I’m also called on to participate in various movements as an activist. The common thread that’s woven through all of it is using my voice for healing.
Q: I know you’ve been able to meet many great celebrities. Who gave you the most sound advice?
A: Ben Vereen… I call him my spiritual enforcer. Definitely Stevie Wonder… He’s like a mentor. More so than his advice, it’s been his example. Though you can’t get any bigger than him, he’s one of the most humble and kindest people. Often people exchange kindness for celebrity, but not him. I’ll give you an example. For my father’s funeral, many people demanded special treatment and came with huge guest lists, but the biggest celebrities there asked for the least, they had the quietest footprints.
I met Bob Marley at six years old. I can remember sitting on Muhammad Ali’s lap at five or six. I met so many legends at an early age and didn’t really know who they were. But I felt their presence. Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson were really tight with Dad. Oftentimes it was just being in the room with them and feeling a higher vibration. Famous or not, my father dealt with people with integrity and spirituality.
Q: What was it like having such an outspoken father like Dick Gregory?
A: I grew up in a family where it was a badge of honor to get arrested and go to jail for what you believed in. We experienced death threats and got used to phone taps, etc. We started out in Chicago in a more black environment. Then, we moved to Massachusetts in a more white environment. But in both environments, there was never a dull moment. Dad was so ahead of his time. He was figuring out things as he went. And we were there for the ride.
Dad was a combination of things the world had never seen; really the first. At the height of his stardom, when he had become a household name, he gave it all up for the Movement.
Bill Cosby has spoken on how he was able to move in my father’s spot when it became vacant, and how Dad really paved the way for so many Black comics. But my father did carry his comedy into the movement. He used humor as a survival skill and healing mechanism in the face of looming danger. There were three assassination attempts on my father’s life. He outlived all of them.
We also had to become black vegetarians in the 70s, which was not fun at all (laughs). We were an anomaly everywhere, but we were surrounded by greatness. My father was a great mind. He would get sent so many things as a “conspiracy theorist” that as a child it almost scrambled my brain (laughs).
Music and performing arts have been a great medium for me to continue his legacy as a healing agent for change. I’m bringing the play “The Daughter of the Struggle” to Morehouse College in February. MLK III saw it last time I performed it in Atlanta. He shed a few tears during the performance and said that it brought back so many memories. I’m really excited about bringing it back so that especially more young people can see it. While I’m in Atlanta, I’ll also be visiting some elementary-high schools to spend some time with the youth.
In these days and times, it’s easy to get scared, to get caught up in the American hype that focuses on hatred. It’s like the Wild Wild West out here. But we have to keep in mind that all of these energies that are the opposite of love are on their way out. This is their last hoorah and they’re going out kicking and screaming. So you either choose the love movement or the other side. There’s no middle ground. It’s a time when everyone is going to get right or we just won’t be here. If there was ever a time for us to reveal our light, it is now.
Q: I’ve recovered from an “incurable” kidney disease by changing my diet. My son, who has autism, has benefited from this as well. How important do you think a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle is?
My father transitioned to the vegan lifestyle around 1971. So I was born into it. My older siblings had already been eating meat so they had to transition into it. So he got rid of the meat, dairy, and white sugar and white bread. As kids, we rebelled a lot against it. Sometimes, we would sneak chicken, turkey, junk food and dairy products. I was about fourteen when I stopped eating those things, but I struggled with dairy a lot of my life. We were all great athletes. I realized that I would feel so much faster and stronger when I cut everything out and returned to what Dad taught us in the first place. The thing is, especially in America, most of us aren’t eating real food with all the hormones and stuff. With my journey, I just pay attention to my body. For the most part, I eat a vegan diet because my body tells me that’s what feels good. I eat a little fish here and there, but I pay attention to my body.
My father used to have lymphatic cancer. He went the natural route and cured himself. Many people I know have cured themselves by going raw, drinking water, eating Whole Foods. Not all food is meant to be cooked. We need to eat some live food every day. We give the body a break when we eat live foods and let the digestive enzymes work. Let thy food be thy medicine. They feed us food to literally make us sick, then give us medicine that doesn’t cure us but manages our “illness”. This keeps us in a cycle of sickness and dependency on something outside of ourselves. These industries would go out of business if we became our own healers. My dad inspired literally millions of people to become vegetarians/vegans. His book, “Cooking With Mother Nature”, was such an important part of the development of the Wholistic Black community in America. From comedy to Human Rights to eating right, Dad’s legacy is so varied that it still blows my mind that one man could have so much impact on humanity.