Words and Wisdom From Trailblazers Who Passed in 2016

By Sameer Rao Dec 29, 2016

We have no concrete evidence to support this, but 2016 seemed to take an unusually large number of artists, activists and leaders of color. Here are words from some of the notables who passed away.


"Most people can’t see beauty and love. I see our music as medicine."—Earth, Wind & Fire co-founder Maurice White (December 19, 1941—February 3, 2016)


"I cannot live in peace, I am always thinking about being killed or kidnapped. But I refuse to go into exile. I am a human rights fighter and I will not give up this fight."—Honduran indigenous and environmental organizer Berta Cáceres (March 4, 1971—March 3, 2016) 


"The fog and the smog of news media that logs false narratives of Gods that came up against the odds, We’re not just n**** rappers with the bars, it’s kismet that we’re cosmic with the stars."—"We the People," A Tribe Called Quest co-founder Malik "Phife Dawg" Taylor (November 20, 1970—March 23, 2016)


"Yes, I’m a feminist, because I see all women as smart, gifted and tough."—architect Zaha Hadid (October 31, 1950—March 31, 2016)


"Does anybody hear us pray, for Michael Brown or Freddie Gray? Peace is more than the absence of war."—musician, songwriter, activist Prince Rogers Nelson (June 7, 1958—April 21, 2016)


"For us, we’re troublemakers, because why wouldn’t we be troublemakers in a society that has no respect for us?"—former Black Panther Afeni Shakur (January 10, 1947—May 2, 2016)


"No, I am not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of White slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end."—boxer and activist Muhammad Ali (January 17, 1941—June 3, 2016)


"I know we can’t go back there, back to where we were. But we can tell the young ones how it was and they can remember, and they can bring it back. They can return."— actor, sportsman, Lakota Chief David William Beautiful Bald Eagle (April 8, 1919—July 22, 2016)


"I think White America really doesn’t understand the pain and degradation a person endures when they face racism."—journalist and publisher George Curry (February 23, 1947—August 20, 2016) 


"They say we’re living difficult times, that people are curious and they want to know more, but people also aren’t dumb."—Mexican singer Juan Gabriel (January 7, 1950—August 28, 2016)


"There is a problem in America. An Irish or Polish American can write a story and it’s an American story. When a Black American writes a story, it’s called a Black story. I take exception to that. Every artist has articulated to his own experience. The problem is that some people do not see Blacks as Americans."—author Gloria Naylor (January 25, 1950—September 28, 2016) 


"We can’t expect the world to get better by itself. We have to create something we can leave the next generation,"—journalist Gwen Ifill (September 29, 1955—November 14, 2016)


"We believed at the beginning that when we established the fullest equality before the law and complete intolerance for any demonstration of sexual discrimination in the case of women, or racial discrimination in the case of ethnic minorities, these phenomena would vanish from our society. It was some time before we discovered that marginality and racial discrimination with it are not something that one gets rid of with a law or even with 10 laws, and we have not managed to eliminate them completely in 40 years,"—Cuban president Fidel Castro (August 13, 1926—November 25, 2016)


"We [non-White models] had no images. We had nothing that told us we were nice-­looking. Nothing. So I didn’t think of myself as good-looking at all. It never occurred to me."—high fashion model Noel De Souza "China" Machado (December 25, 1928—December 18, 2016)