The Bakewells

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The Bakewells

Like father like son. And his son. And his son. And their sons and daughters, and their children, and their children and so on and so forth. Life grows with the seeds we plant. How the seeds grow and flourish depends greatly on how we nurture and cultivate them.

Call the Bakewell family a garden of everlasting hope. Call the family’s efforts in the struggle nothing short of amazing.

“The most important thing I want the world to know about AIDS is that AIDS is a human problem,” says Danny Bakewell, Jr. “Not a Black problem, a white problem, a gay problem. All people have to come together to address AIDS the way they would any other catastrophic illness.”

It’s a perspective shared by many, but how often does one hear those words out of the mouths of people like the Bakewells, Danny, Sr. and Danny, Jr.?

“I’m part of a group that never wants to talk about it,” admits Danny, Jr., “heterosexual, African American, but ignorance is what creates the problem. I tell people, this is all our problem.”

That’s the thing about both father and son. Open minds. Empowered souls. Bigger-than-life heart.

Danny Bakewell, Sr. is a businessman, community activist and publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel, a weekly newspaper that boasts a readership of over 125,000, and is the largest paid African American owned and operated newspaper in the West. Established in 1933, the highly acclaimed paper was purchased in 2004 by Danny, Sr., by then a successful real estate developer and philanthropist. He became the executive publisher, chairman and chief executive officer in March 2004, and is also the founder of the Brotherhood Crusade and founder of Sabriya’s Castle of Fun.

Danny Bakewell, Jr. is President/CEO of the Bakewell Group, and a businessman, financier, community activist and humanitarian. He is also owner, president and executive editor of the Los Angeles Sentinel. A father of four children, Danny, Jr. is already passing down the light to his own children, which is merely the continuation of generations of light.

“The kind of parents and grandparents I had,” says Danny Sr. of his inspiration and motivation. “I was raised in the deep South. We were struggling every day, but my parents always treated people with dignity and respect.”

The tradition continues. When Danny Jr. attended a function of mostly gay men, he talked about it with his children with that same dignity and respect, insuring the world one more generation of Bakewells who won’t view gays as monsters or mistakes. But the Bakewell men and the Bakewell Group are about more than lip service.

“The Rev. Carl Bean told my dad and myself what was going on with AIDS when it first hit,” says Danny, Jr. “Twenty years later, he knew exactly what he was talking about.”

The Bakewell response to HIV/AIDS then was to provide Rev. Bean with his first grant. The Bakewell response to HIV/AIDS since has been that same kind of commitment and compassion. It’s not just the fact that the Sentinel deals with the pandemic in the Black community openly and honestly, or that Danny, Jr. will appear at events like the first-ever national African American summit on AIDS and say things like, “having unprotected sex, not informing your partner of your condition, is reckless disregard of Black life.”

What makes the Bakewells most heroic is the way they live their lives daily, with compassion and commitment, just part of who they are.

“Our evolution of support with AIDS was born out of respect and deference to other people’s self-determination and a real earnest desire to hear you and help you chart your own course,” says Danny Sr. “We need to be united the same way we’re united about police brutality, poor education, gang violence.”

Perhaps in the historic tradition of the press, neither Bakewell is shy about holding those responsible accountable. Danny Sr. is clear on what he thinks is needed in 2008 to help conquer AIDS.

“We need a serious appropriation of money, and to motivate Black elected officials to take this on beyond the rhetoric,” states the elder Bakewell. “As a publisher, I can give voice, but they’re in a position to do more. When doing interviews, I need to ask questions. People like Rev. Bean and Phill [Wilson] are out there and have allowed this to be on center stage. We have to be soldiers. We’ve got to help these things manifest.”

In 2008, one way in which the Bakewells are helping to manifest is by partnering with Gilead Sciences for a series of ads in the Sentinel, all regarding HIV/AIDS in the Black community. In a recent editorial, Danny Jr. calls it “an education partnership to address the many causes and issues surrounding this deadly disease.” In that same editorial he goes on to say, “Now, we all know that AIDS/HIV is something our community has been ignoring for far too long. But, the truth is we have to face it! As my dad would say, ‘we cannot continue walking around pretending the elephant is not in the room.’”

There was no light bulb moment that brought tolerance and understanding to Danny, Jr.’s world. Instead he credits his friend (and former Hero honoree) Tony Wafford and a “willingness to have an open mind. You have to look at yourself and ask: why am I homophobic or why am I nervous around people with AIDS?”

And of course, there was the influence of his father, Danny Sr., now running through the veins of Danny Jr.’s children.

“Kids pass it on to kids,” says the younger Bakewell. “By telling them how you feel, children learn by example.”

If only more fathers and sons could be like this father and son.

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