Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Remembering Aaliyah and Respecting Sen. Kennedy

It's ironic that as we remembered an icon for my generation yesterday in Aaliyah, we are saying goodbye to an American icon that crossed generations in Sen. Ted Kennedy. In a year of sad deaths, this one is another unfortunate name to the list.

I can't believe it's been 8 years since I got the phone call from my friend John that Aaliyah died in a plane crash. I remember yelling at him that he was a liar and he shouldn't spread rumors like that without fact. Then my sister and I watched the news and they led off with the story. First time I could recall crying over a famous person's death and it came at a weird time in a career.

Her music career was established and she was branching out to film - all set to star in the Matrix sequels after "Romeo Must Die" and "Queen of the Damned." Her mentors, Missy Elliott and Timbaland, shook up hip-hop with "Get Ur Freak On" that spring. The sky was the limit and at 22, she was taken far too soon.

"Rock The Boat" always gives me chills when I see or hear it because it was her final video. The beat is spine-tingling enough and her voice is light and airy like an angel, but knowing that she died soon after, it feels like a voice from above.

I still remember that MTV Video Music Awards show in 2000 when she brought up her brother Rashad when she won for "Try Again". Then a year later, he was there to remember his sister with Missy. I thought Missy and Timbo's performance was extra inspired that night like Aaliyah's spirit was pushing them to their success.

I miss her down-home sexiness without being slutty. I miss her style, grace and her sultry voice beyond her years. I miss wondering how she'd sound over Timbaland's beats now and what direction she'd take her music (I heard she was going to work with Beck or Trent Reznor). We see bits of her in Ciara but nobody will ever take her place.

Contrast that with Ted Kennedy, who was an icon to the 60's generation and lived a full life of cheer. I remember somebody saying when he was first stricken with brain cancer that he was a Kennedy brother that America got to see grow up as opposed to John and Robert being cut down in their prime.

Sen. Kennedy overcame his brothers' shadows and the Chappaquiddick incident and made possibly a greater impact in American politics than either one of them. He was a strong figure in passing progressive legislature and he earned the respect of Democratic and Republican colleagues for being willing to compromise for the good of America. Many called him a friend and I just heard that Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Chris Dodd broke down when thinking about him.

But what I will remember him is how he used his voice. He may have come from a powerful noble family, but he never forget those less fortunate or those whose voice was not heard. He worked hard for civil rights, immigration reform, education and other issues that affected the majority of the population. Healthcare was his pet project for years and my hope is that Congress finds a way to pass an effective bill that is a fitting tribute to his legacy.

He was the center of his powerful and large family - something that reminded me of my late Uncle Levi - and I can imagine the sadness they are feeling. Like my uncle, he was there when they needed someone to turn to, someone to draw strength from. For many of his generation, he was that voice of the 60's that roared loudly for four decades.

His speech at the 2008 DNC was powerful because I didn't know if he would be there, still suffering from brain cancer. But there he was, the Lion of the Senate making his appeal for Barack Obama, for health care and those issues he never wavered from. It was a moving speech that showed his resiliency, his strength - all traits he inherited through his circumstances.

Both Sen. Kennedy and Aaliyah lived their passions with great humility and they related to people in their own way. Two distinct legacies that cannot be compared, yet they demonstrate the power of being who you are and ability to relate to a wide range of people. God bless their families and their eternal memories.

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