At the age of eighty, Academy Award winning actor and lifelong activist, Lou Gossett, Jr. remains in love with life and in love with humanity. “Everything is green. It looks like Ireland or Scotland it’s so gorgeous. The fruit trees are beginning to burst. The oranges, the lemons, persimmons, clementines,” he told the AFRO.
He is describing how his Malibu neighborhood, where he has resided for the past thirty years, looks after a brief stint of rain. As much as he loves it, he is planning on moving in the near future to be closer to the ocean. “I have been here for thirty years. It’s time to move on. I need to be by the ocean air. I’m from Sheepshead Bay Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. So wherever the ocean is in breathing distance, that’s where I’m gonna be at my best. It’s the purest air there is in the country.”
Gossett’s memories of his childhood are a guiding force. It’s apparent that for him it was a special time and place, the template for a better world. He recalls nostalgically a neighborhood where a cornucopia of nationalities and ethnicities looked out for one another. His own uncles were his childhood heroes.
Still, he witnessed through the eyes of a young boy the pernicious effects of racism on those same beloved uncles once they came back to America from the war. He credits Jewish friends for getting him into acting at a young age. Remarkably, in his first acting role, Gossett starred on Broadway in “Take A Giant Step” at the age of seventeen. The New York Times declared that play one of the best for that year.
Unity is Gossett’s almost desperate refrain. The ERacism foundation, a non-profit he founded in 2006, as its name implies, seeks to eradicate racism. According to him, racism is “the automatic assumption of superiority on anybody’s part. It is destroying the fabric of America. In fact, the fabric of the world. When somebody thinks they are better than somebody else because they have more money, all the weapons, all the gold, all the oil. There’s no such thing.” From his viewpoint, racism a dangerous impediment to human survival and precludes us all from carrying out our larger purpose which is, “Preservation of the planet. Clearing up the garbage of the oceans. There are too many chemicals in our plants, too much disease. So if we’re not doing all of this, to take care of one another so that everybody can survive we all may as well be in a 747 airplane at 30,000 feet and about to crash and everybody is on the plane fighting about who is going to be in first class.”
Recent socio-political developments have served only to embolden him more in his hope and his mission to persuade people to join him in creating a better world. “It’s just above the table now so we can see what we’re up against. Now that we can see it, we can deal with it. The largest demonstration in the history of the planet happened globally the day after inauguration day. So now we’re awake. We’re gonna keep up that momentum regardless of what anybody thinks.”
Although he allows that there is intersectional work to be done to align the White feminist movement with those of other women of color, he remains sanguine about the ability of women to bring about change. “I think it’s time for women. Anyone who goes against that is intimidated by the female force, which I am not. I cheer it on, I think it’s time.”
His foundation’s newest initiative is a growing partnership with Pepperdine University’s Straus Institute of Dispute Resolution. Gossett served as Master of Ceremonies for its recent program on South Africa and was a speaker at its Black Law Students Association’s Black History Month event.
The Institute’s head, Tom Stipanowich, is on the Board of Advisors for E-Racism. He told the AFRO that, “Lou and I have talked about his idea of a masterclass which derived from his own experience from early childhood on. A major portion of which deals with the management of conflict and relations with other people. And so for that reason I thought it was important that we try to assist and help him in making this a reality. We are figuring it out now. The fact is Lou has incredible insight into the challenges confronting young people today but also he is very thoughtful about relations between ethnic and racial groups. John Adams once said ‘there are two creatures of value in this world. Those with a commitment and those who demand a commitment of others’ and Lou is both. He is an exceptional person.”