The former U.S. Congressman from Pennsylvania, Rev. Dr. William Gray III died, this past Monday. He was 71 years old.
Gray, a towering figure in Philadelphia politics, pastor and businessman,was in London, attending Wimbledon with his son.
There are towering figures in our nation's black community, men and women who's influence and wisdom is so pervasive that they fill leadership voids so varied that in the process they become legendary. William Gray III is such a figure.
He was not only a United States Representative, and while serving in Congress, he also served as pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia, where he succeeded his father. Gray was also became President of the United Negro College Fund.
"In a statement issued Tuesday morning, President Obama called Mr. Gray "a trailblazer" and said, "Bill's extraordinary leadership, on issues from housing to transportation to supporting efforts that ended apartheid in South Africa, made our communities, our country and our world a more just place." In Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives stood and paused in a moment of silence. Friends struggled to grasp the news that he was gone - to them he seemed strong, an avid tennis player. Others who knew Mr. Gray for decades - colleagues, political allies, and church members - recalled him as a respected Philadelphia pastor, a visionary congressman, a fighter for justice, and a man of keen political sense who put his charisma to good use. "He could walk down the hallway, and everybody knew him, he knew everyone," said U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D., Pa). "I'm absolutely positively shocked. It's a major, major loss to the city, to the area, and to the nation." Mayor Nutter said he was "stunned, saddened and hurt" by the death of Mr. Gray, whom he called "a transformative leader among leaders." "He knew guys on the corner, and he knew Nelson Mandela and everyone in between," Nutter said. "In the chess match of politics, he knew how to get things done." At the time of his death, Mr. Gray was chairman emeritus of Gray Global Advisors, a business and government consultancy based in Washington. Before founding the firm, he was president and chief executive of the United Negro College Fund, for which he raised more than $2.3 billion for minority institutions."
This video clip from 1992 could have been spoken yesterday. It not only shows how little things have changed, it is one of the clearest prophetic pronouncements on why such little progress has been made.
In watching it I could only think, "If only we had listened."