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One of the Nation’s
Most Influential
Public Intellectuals

Corporate Diversity

Speaks Ou...
BY   EDWARD           CATES

                          Examining the Life of the Mind:
President in office and a new lease on American racial life.          That’s not usually the case when we think of the bla...
“The primary
     heartbeat of our community
     ought to be service to others.                        SP: You com-      ...
Examining the Life of the Mind: A Talk with Dr. Michael Eric Dyson by Edward Cates - Savoy Professional Summer 2009
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Examining the Life of the Mind: A Talk with Dr. Michael Eric Dyson by Edward Cates - Savoy Professional Summer 2009


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Full reprint of interview with Dr. Michael Eric Dyson by Edward Cates as featured in Savoy Professional Magazine's Summer 2009 Issue. In the interview he talks about his latest book, accountability of the black professional in a post Obama election age and more.

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Examining the Life of the Mind: A Talk with Dr. Michael Eric Dyson by Edward Cates - Savoy Professional Summer 2009

  1. 1. MICHAEL ERIC Dyson One of the Nation’s Most Influential Public Intellectuals Corporate Diversity Summer Speaks Out Travel SUMMER 2009 $3.95
  2. 2. BY EDWARD CATES Examining the Life of the Mind: A Talk with Dr. Michael Eric Dyson Dr. Michael Eric Dyson aptly describes his path as “The Life of the Mind” and, in the tradition of his esteemed tenure at Georgetown. Simultaneously balancing a rigor- ous speaking schedule, television appearances and a predecessors, has amassed a body of work coupled with national radio show, he has written and published 17 bravery in criticism that are sure to enshrine his recollec- books broaching a variety of topics impacting the African tion in history as one of the greatest minds of our time. American community and pop culture. Rudyard Kipling wrote in his poem If, “If you can talk Dr. Dyson invited me to sit in during the live broadcast with crowds and keep your virtue, of his NPR radio production, The Michael Eric Dyson Or walk with kings–nor lose the Show ( prior to our interview. Lela James, common touch”. Dr. Dyson embod- the talented Neo Soul singer, was his guest on that day and ies Kipling’s implied principle of in 60 minutes he exhibited broadcast professionalism, soul- excellence and humility. One of the ful insightful and humor while being educational and most unique talents of Dr. Dyson is entertaining all at once. his effortless mastery of range in During our interview, I endeavored to examine the reaching his audience and sharing issue of accountability for African American professionals, meaning. He can quote Einstein, to provoke him to do what he does best and find out more Dubois, Jay-Z and Tupac in one about his latest book, “Can You Hear Me Now?: The breath with dead on contextual Inspiration, Wisdom and Insight of Michael Eric Dyson,” application. In the tradition of great published by Basic Civitas Books and available at orators and rhetoricians, he exhibits In true form he turned it on for the Savoy as a speaker the wit and care to con- Professional audience: struct superhuman sentences on the fly, contextually on point and SP: Dr. Dyson please tell us about your latest book project? infused with his intellect and pro- MED: Can you Hear me Now, The Inspiration, Wisdom and voking engagement. Dr. Dyson is Insight of Michael Eric Dyson brings together my best also an ordained minister which quotes, most insightful paragraphs and most interesting provides underscoring and gravitas and lively sentences from the last 20 years of my work to his vivid and wise spirit. from books, articles, magazines, essays, sermons and the Originally from Detroit, Dr. like. The book is an attempt to filter that wisdom, insight Dyson wields a Ph.D from and engagement from over 17 different topics including; Princeton University and has been Barack Obama, race and identity, homosexuality and on the faculty at some of the best homophobia, music, hip hop culture, relationships, icons in colleges and universities in the our community and the like. This is my attempt to say Dr. Dyson broad- country as a professor. Currently, Dr. Dyson is a “Can You Hear ME Now?” casting live at his NPR University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown I’ve said these things before. But this is under a different radio production, University in Washington, D.C., their highest position of context and under the rubric of different subjects that are The Michael Eric tenure validating his expertise across any discipline in the important to the culture right now. Also the book is enti- Dyson Show university system. Not surprisingly, he is currently the tled “Can You Hear Me NOW?”. This is a new and propi- only African American professor that holds this title and tious time to take up these issues especially with a black 30 SAVOY Professional Summer 2009o
  3. 3. President in office and a new lease on American racial life. That’s not usually the case when we think of the black pro- fessional for stepping up his or her game as it often relates to SP: What is your process of sharing and picking the best of his or her own wealth, their own success, their own upward the best to compile a relevant and timely book? mobility or the trajectory of their tremendous enjoyment of MED: You look back on what you’ve done and remember the the fruits and privileges of their existence. While all of that things that people said inspired them and take note of those may be true and a consequence of the incredible wealth and sentences, paragraphs and ideas. Some of the things you do success that is enjoyed, that is not the primary beat that we will be tremendously resonant with the broader culture and should be concerned with. The primary heartbeat of our com- some of it will be left behind. You have to have a sense of munity ought to be service to others. Especially as black pro- what got over and what didn’t. Also a sense of what is rele- fessionals it’s about generating economic wherewithal, to be vant in light of the ideas and activities of today’s world. So sure, but for bigger purposes than our pocketbooks. that stuff I said before about homosexuality and homophobia If our pockets are on swole (swollen) and we got mad are important now because we are going through such cheddar, CDs and 401Ks, money in the bank and enough tremendous debates. Or conversations about relationships money to feed our children and provide them a great living, that I wrote about in Essence magazine have some resonance fine that’s beautiful. But that can’t be the litmus test for our for what is happening now given the revival of interest in real service and achievement. We have to go beyond that. black men and black women because of the Obamas as a cou- In that sense Obama challenges us to live a life of service to ple and also the crises that beset all of us who are attempting the community and to the nation. It’s also a challenge for us to carve out intimacy in the midst of difficult social and cul- to hold that black professional, President Obama, accountable. tural existences. People say there are no more excuses for black people. True You take into account your desire to offer the more well and there are no more excuses for America to say, “They can’t honed phrases and polished sentences that may not have got- find one.” If you found a black man to run the nation, broth- ten the play you feel they could have received or deserved. ers and sisters can do anything else. That’s a great lesson to All of those thoughts led me down the path. The central one America. America no longer has the excuse of saying, “We being, “Is this relevant to the subjects I think are popping in can’t find one.” American culture?” There are plenty more Barack Obama’s where he came from. Now he is an extraordinary guy, I’m not saying he’s SP: What is your perspective on the accountability of the interchangeable with many other people. It was a unique black professional in a post Obama election age? time, place and situation that allowed him to emerge and he is MED: First of all, black professionals must step up their a unique figure. But there are many more figures like Barack game and they understand that. That is to say that we have Obama equally brilliant, insightful, capable and equipped to to be more accountable to especially poor and struggling facilitate transition and transformation in their particular black people. fields of pursuit. 32 SAVOY Professional Summer 2009o
  4. 4. “The primary heartbeat of our community ought to be service to others. SP: You com- curious. Constantly be hungry. Like Biggie said and Jay-Z bine the vibra- repeated on the Black Album, “I’ll make my last like my first Especially as black professionals it’s to of the and my first like my last.” black clergy You have to have that hunger like it’s your first time out. about generating economic where- with contem- Like you are still a rookie, seeking acceptance. You have to porary aware- write like a demon and think like an Angel. You have to love withal, to be sure, but for bigger ness of hip-hop human beings so much that you want to perfect your craft and pop culture and become as excellent at it as possible. The stakes are big purposes than our married seamless- here, they’re not just titillating enjoyment from people who ly with academic look on as spectators. There are the transformative possibili- pocketbooks.” insight and finished ties of engaging the life of the mind to help shape and criticize with what has become public policy and talk about public statements of political fig- your signature linguistic ures that will either harm, or deform poor communities or acrobatics. Is this you at your perhaps enable them to do better. core and/or do you endeavor to entertain So it’s my job as a public intellectual to think out loud and engage? about important issues that have an impact upon millions, to MED: Certainly it is me at my core. But if that’s me at my look upon my particular realm and see what I can do to be core and I can simultaneously engage an audience then all the better. So there’s a restless hunger for improvement that better because my authentic self is mediated as the instrument should accompany all that we do. Otherwise we are satiated for consciousness raising, enlightenment spreading and polit- and satisfied and not going to become all that we could be. ical uplift. If I can do that while being myself, all the more Recently, on my radio program we had the Jazz great beautiful. Sonny Rollins. He said to me that one of his secrets is that he But of course one understands an audience. I’ve been continues to hunger to grow and he practices every day. 78 speaking now in public for a long time. I’m 50 years old and years old about to turn 79 and respected as a musical legend started giving formal speeches at 10 or 11 years old, before with the likes of John Coltrane. But yet he’s still practicing, that giving speeches and set pieces in church since I was 4 or humble enough to recognize he doesn’t know everything. If a 5. I’ve been running my mouth for about 45 years now. I genius like that at 78 can continue to grow, at 50 I can contin- want to get better each time. I want to refine my craft. I want ue to be inspired enough to want to perfect my craft. To want to deepen my roots of excellence. to get better, to want to write better books and deliver better I also want to make the life of the mind sexy for young sermons, to give better speeches and become a better human people. I want them to say you don’t have to just be a rapper being in the process of trying to enable others to become all or entertainer. You can be an intellectual and say stuff that that God intended them to be. sounds good that’s engaging. That allows people to under- stand what’s at stake in this debate over gay marriage, the SP: What do you see as your legacy? How do you want to be debate over Obama, the economy, over whether GM should remembered? go into bankruptcy, the debate on hip-hop culture and the MED: Hopefully as a world-class intellectual, a first rate authenticity movement within black pop culture. All of that is academic and a gifted scholar who was not interested in important. To have an outlet is wonderful in getting one to quarantining knowledge to the academy. But who wanted express one’s opinion on the web, in magazines, in a book or to sneeze beyond the university to infect the world with the classroom. But also the ability to seduce people in the best desire to love learning. Defending the vulnerable with the and highest sense of that word, into one’s perspective or on to ideas that I’ve been able to learn and to generate. Speaking one’s side or into critically engaging a subject. Saying I hadn’t truth to the powerful and thought about it that way and now I’ll think about it more powerless and, in the end, Edward Cates is profoundly. When young people come up to me and say, you fight on behalf and in Managing Partner changed my life, I read your book and that turned me around. defense of those who of Nuance That was the first book I read and now I’m reading all the couldn’t fight or speak for themselves. Marketing, LLC an time. Or to say they now believe intelligence is a viable com- modity that we should seek or education is a viable means to While he is clear in how Atlanta based a broader end. That makes me feel good and that I’ve made a he would like to be remem- marketing, contribution. I’m deeply appreciative of the ability to do so. bered, Dr. Dyson is relent- communications, And therefore hold myself to be accountable to do it more lessly pursuing excellence advertising and often and better as I continue to do what I do. in unforgettable fashion. public relations firm. The organic sincerity of Dr. Cates leads Nuance with a passion for SP: With a man that has achieved so much your drive is clear- Dyson, his bravery in intel- writing and advocacy for diversity and ly far from waning. What’s next for you? lect, sterling delivery and minority businesses, receiving national MED: You’ve got to continue to develop. You can’t ever be scholarly works are chang- recognition for his work. For additional satisfied with yesterday’s plaudits or last week’s laurels or ing lives and broadening content from this interview with Dr. last month’s achievements or last year’s niche that was how we critically think and Dyson visit established. You have to constantly expand. Constantly be engage in society. SP Summer 2009 SAVOY Professional 33