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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Jennifer Hudson Grieves and The Black Family is Assaulted Again...

The value of life is often not quantifiable until our sensibilities on the matter are offended by acts of cruel and heinous behavior. On the evening of Friday, October 24, 2008, such offenses were made on a grand and widely public scale as the media announced the double murder of 51-year-old Darnell Donnerson and 29-year-old Jason Hudson, mother and brother of famed entertainer Jennifer Hudson. The two victims were found during a Chicago Police missing persons inquiry into the sudden inexplicable disappearance of Hudson’s seven-year-old nephew Julian King, also confirmed a victim of homicide several days later.

For those like me who have watched a young Jennifer Hudson blossom from an adolescent American Idol contestant to an international star, her loss seems somehow personal. I witnessed her talent be discovered, nurtured, confirmed and celebrated right before my eyes.

In 2004 a young (but decidedly confident) Jennifer Hudson made her national debut on the cult talent competition, American Idol. After a roller coaster ride of auditions and disappointments, Jennifer was awarded a coveted spot among the Top 12 Finalists – and her family stayed by her side as she competed. Jennifer did not win the AI competition that year, but her talent was widely recognized. After fulfilling her touring obligations with the show, Jennifer won the role of “Effie White” and costarred opposite Jamie Fox, Eddie Murphy, Beyonce Knowles and Danny Glover in the big screen adaption of “Dreamgirls.” Jennifer received much critical acclaim for that performance, ultimately garnering her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar Award that year. Since “Dreamgirls”, Hudson has also starred in two other box office successes – the film adaption of “Sex & The City” with costar Sarah Jessica Parker, and most recently “The Secret Life of Bees,” with costars Queen Latifah, Alica Keys and Dakota Fanning.

Jennifer Hudson’s story has been one of triumph and her success has assuredly been a direct result of her close-knit family dynamic - an ever-present positive influence in her life. Upon hearing the sobering details of the murders, neighbors and friends have remembered the family fondly, speaking highly of the family’s commitment to their local church and noting respectfully that even celebrity could not uproot their strong ties to the local Chicago community.

It has been several days since the initial announcement of the murders. Concern for the much-adored star and a general lack of officially released details surrounding the case has lead to rampant speculation and conjecture. By all published accounts, Jennifer Hudson’s family was well respected by those who knew them. Yet still, unanswered questions and limited details have caused erosion to the sincerest memories of the family. Curious fans and voyeurs of the case have begun over-analyzing the limited information being offered by investigators. This over- analyzation has birthed some spectacular conspiracy theories – none of which can currently be corroborated.

While it is purely human nature to formulate rationalizations to help us understand that which escapes us, such unfounded speculations can only serve to taint the memory of a good Black family. The Hudson family as we currently know it, is a Black American family success story and I am deeply disturbed at how quickly some people are willing to erase that established fact and replace it with unsubstantiated plots of treachery. At there worst border on slanderous.

A baseless piece written by a gentleman named Jonathan Kay for titled “Jonathan Kay on Jennifer Hudson, and the inescapable effect of violent crime on Black American families,” borders on racist. With no facts to confirm his claims, Kay states:

Hudson's story is one of glittering success. But her family in Chicago — from what we know — has lived for many years in the shadow of violent criminality. Now, several of her close family members are dead, and Jennifer herself is certain to be scarred by the sort of pain and loss that wealth and fame won't palliate. Tragically, this sort of undeserved sorrow has become just another part of being black in America. (read more here)
Kay’s negative (albeit sympathetic) opinion of the Hudson family seems to make gross assumptions that contradict more personal accounts of the family. The ease in which one believes his claims speaks to a level of personal bias, unconscious or otherwise. Why else would someone so easily reduce the Hudson Family tragedy, a crime that has yet to be solved, into a blanket assessment of failing Black families and neighborhoods? This speculation and those similar to it fuel a slanderous loss of true (positive) recollection (a close-knit black family with ties to their community who accepts success without feeling a need to flee the neighborhood that embraced them) and replaces it with unconscious substantiation of (negative) stereotypes (success in low income black communities breads jealousy and can cause family, friends and neighbors to act against you and Black victims of violent crimes must be inviting such threats upon themselves), and makes this attack on one Black family an attack on all Black families.

I suppose the spirit of Sherlock Holmes lives within each of us; we each want our turn at solving an inexplicable mystery. However, what of our responsibility to recognize the impact that our speculations have on the legacy of this grieving family? Why are we so perplexed that a family with some measure of success remains committed to the community they resided in before the family name became a brand? Why are we automatically persuaded, without evidence, that past criminal behavior equates to current criminal behavior? Where do stereotypes come from and who exactly buys into them?

Think broadly and critically – a well-respected reputation may be at stake.
My sincerest condolences to Jennifer Hudson and her family.

Peace & Abundant Blessings…

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