Legendary actress, activist, mother, friend and wife Ruby Dee passed away at 91 earlier this summer on June 11. However, over the weekend (Sept. 20), her family, friends and fans gathered in memoriam of her long, impactful life in Harlem at the historic Riverside Church. One of our Enstars reporters was on the scene to witness the joyous, important occasion, which she referred to as an "extremely inspirational" experience.
Press, friends and family trickled into the massive church to witness an afternoon of tribute to a little lady with a massive reach. As soon as they entered the church, there she was in all her glory, smiling and greeting them with her bright almond eyes on the projection screen in the front of the church. Dee was most certainly there and her presence, often moved many in the audience (as well as the performers) to tears.
Her immediate and extended family processed in to the church while singing group sang, Lift Every Voice and Sing, in honor of Dee's commitment to the civil rights movement, which never waivered even in her old age. She still fought on and never hesitated to speak out when something, national or local, bothered her.
Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes Jr. began the afternoon of remembrance with a Call to Worship. Acclaimed poet and close friend to Dee, Sonia Sanchez read an original poem in honor of all that she was. In the powerful piece, she described her friend.
"This woman told us to take God out of the sky and put him in our hearts... She walked barefoot on our souls," she said, before she returned to her seat to a standing ovation.
Then, Grammy-award winning artist Alicia Keys appeared to perform a touching, appropriate rendition of her hit song, "Superwoman." Before she sang, pregnant belly and all, she revealed, "Ruby Dee has touched me in such a powerful way... We have to take from all that she showed us and use it now."
The ceremony continued with an awe-inspiring reading of some her most candid and hilarious literary pieces, read by a few famous actresses whom Dee paved the way for. With every ounce of their soul, Physician Rashad, Lynn Whitfield, Kim Fields, Tyne Daly, S. Epatha Merkerson, Susan L. Taylor, Elizabeth Van Dyke and Pauletta Washington performed as if Mrs. Dee Davis was casting them to play her in a new role. The eight ladies received an overwhelmingly positive response, as well.
Even President and First Lady Obama sent a letter to be read at the ceremony because they admired her a great deal. Though they could not be there, the message read, "Whether on stage or on screen, she captivated audiences... And we never will forget seeing her perform on our first date in "Do the Right Thing."
Actor and Ruby Dee's former co-star in "A Raisin in the Sun", Glynn Turman, shared an amazing story, describing how Ruby Dee knew him even before he knew himself. On set, a major water leak ruined a fellow actresses' dressing room and the wardrobe in it. Turman was blamed but Dee stood up for him saying, "Glynn wouldn't do that." Later, when they worked together on the 1970s TV show "Peyton Place", she insisted that their black (rarely seen) family represent a realistic look at what their lives were like off screen.
"She never took no for an answer if she thought there could or should be a 'yes", recalled one of her grandchildren. Though they all missed her dearly, the love and admiration they had for her showed how much she loved them during her time on earth. One of her grandsons, Mutu'Ali, even created a documentary called "Life Essentials with Ruby Dee," starring his late grandmother. She shared valuable wisdom that she learned during her time on screen, in the civil rights movement and married to her husband of 57 years, Ossie Davis.
Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier recalled being fond of her at the same time Ossie wanted to date Ruby, but admitted that Ossie was the "right choice" for her.
Trumpeteer Wynton Marsalis gave an astounding performance before singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock sang a rendition of "This Little Light of Mine."
Both of her daughters, Nora and Hasna reflected on their mothers' amazing lives before Ruby Dee's musician son Guy Davis performed for his late mother. Hasna recalled being at her mothers' side, when she passed, surrounded by family and friends.
Before the gathering ended, Nora recited a quote her mother used to tell her caretakers as she grew ill, "I love you, I love with all of my heart... I only wish I had another so I can love you with that, too."
Ruby Dee, for the talent that you are and all that you did, you are missed. Rest in peace and in love.
Gia Peppers is an entertainment reporter and pop culture connoisseur who resides in Brooklyn, New York but calls Maryland home. To keep up with her, follow her on Twitter @GiaPeppers.