As one who lives in the Village of Harlem, I've come to know and experience life here as an astounding rainbow of humanity – people of all colors, ethnicities and backgrounds reside, work, and visit daily. One of the most brilliant stars to shine in Harlem's multi-cultural mosaic was the Honorable Percy E. Sutton, who passed away December 26.Over the years I have watched as this brightest stripe in Harlem’s rainbow gracefully aged, growing halting in step and slightly slumped of shoulder, yet somehow still seeming the tallest and most elegant of figures on 125th Street, the corridor that he and his vision of a resurrected Apollo Theater helped to transform into a major shopping and cultural destination.
Mr. Sutton loved New York City and embraced Harlem and its residents as though they were family. I live one block from Mr. Sutton's Harlem offices (he also had offices in the city's financial district). I would often see him often along 125th Street, always immaculate, gracious, and never too busy to engage in conversation. For some years I have observed this great man, son of a slave, a Tuskegee Airman, attorney, and successful media mogul who, like the verse in Kipling's sonnet, "walked with kings but never lost the common touch.”
A decade ago when I decided to re-direct my career in pursuit of music and media, I sought Mr. Sutton's wise counsel. He was relaxed and plain spoken with people and he spoke with me as though I were a son. I noticed in that meeting that Mr. Sutton’s loyal staff was loving and protective. He remarked on how important they were to him and pointed out that his right-hand assistant ensured that he was kept abreast of details, correct facts, and even unfamiliar words. He told me, in his sonorous Texans' accent, "young man there's always something to learn, so be sure to surround yourself with people who know as much or more than you do and never stop learning.”
Meeting and greeting my mentor on the street always ensured a good day, touched with inspiration and hope through his smile and kind words of encouragement. The Honorable Percy E. Sutton was ever genteel, poised, and possessed an air of dignity and confidence that never failed to make me proud to be an African American and to have known him. RIP, Mr. Sutton.