Percy Sutton: My godfather

(NNPA)—The Hon. Percy Sutton certainly embodied the principle of Kujichagulia (self-determination). His pioneering work in the broadcast industry as founder of Inner City Broadcast Corp. (ICBC), paved the way for many of us to have a “voice” in media. ICBC now stands as the largest Black-owned media enterprise in the world. Percy taught me that you never come up short of what you give.


As keynote speaker for a U.S. Department of Commerce benefit, I recall first meeting Inner City chairman emeritus Percy Sutton. Later, I became the magazine’s featured young entrepreneur story. Developing a working relationship with Percy Sutton, I went onto buy 80 percent ownership of Inner City Magazine in February 2001. Based on my observations, Percy is truly the “godfather of Black business.” Growing up as the son of a Black slave, Percy Sutton defied all odds, dedicating his life to creating equal opportunity. He made possible shows like “American Idol” by founding The Showtime Apollo Theater.

Countless times, Percy Sutton risked his life serving our country as a Tuskegee Airmen in World War II and later as enlisted officer in the Korean War. As an officer for the prestigious Tuskegee Airmen of 1940s, Sutton was among the first Black pilots in United States history. Despite growing up in a country that held his father in slavery, Percy selflessly put his life on the line surviving traumatic challenges as a Black man serving in the 32nd Fighter Group, better known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

Sutton distinguished himself as a leader among one of the most elite military units in history. He fearlessly helped the special squadron complete over 15,000 sorties that boasted the highest success rates. The unit claimed victory over 109 German Nazi aircraft, winning two Distinguished Citations, 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, eight Hearts Purple, 14 Bronze Stars, among other achievements. Beginning as an ordinary young man, Percy Sutton displayed the determination necessary to overcome any obstacle, defying all the odds.

Returning home in 1953, Percy took a low wage job working at the post office attending Brooklyn Law School also saving enough money to open a civil rights law firm on 125th Street, Harlem, N.Y. In our country’s most trying moments, it was the Hon. Percy Sutton that stepped forward to serve as civil rights attorney for Malcolm X’s widow, Betty Shabazz, upon her husband’s controversial assassination. For decades, Percy led the charge to gain justice and equal rights supporting the hundreds of slain activities families.

Known for his genuine integrity, Percy Sutton served in the New York State Assembly before taking over as Manhattan borough president in 1966, becoming the highest-ranking Black elected official in New York. Having fought in countless battles, it was Sutton who first voiced a dissenting protest at the 1968 Democratic Convention against the Vietnam War, the policy of Richard Nixon. Later, he served as the political mentor for Rev. Jesse Jackson’s two presidential bids.

Still focused on the struggle to provide opportunities to ordinary people, Percy ran for mayor of New York City in 1977 losing to Edward Koch. He remained undaunted in his mission to serve others in need. Percy went on to entrepreneurial achievements, building a voice for thousands of people living in poverty. He bought the decrepit Apollo Theater in 1981, investing over $250,000 in the people of Harlem, and then turning it into a historic landmark for aspiring artist, entrepreneurs and social leaders. Today, it is revered as the one of the most prestigious venues in the United States.

Realizing the valuable social impact of entrepreneurial dreams like The Showtime Apollo Theater, Percy working with his brother, Oliver, purchased the WLIB-AM radio station. Through hard work and determination, it became the first Black-owned radio station in New York. It garnered national exposure, opening broadcast locations in key markets such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit and San Antonio, facilitating our voice of opportunity. Today, his creation stands as a legacy and model representing the potential of every person’s ability to achieve their hopes and dreams.

Ultimately, Percy Sutton left the world a better place, truly making a difference in people’s lives. It is with great respect and gratitude I usher in 2010 always remembering my godfather and loving mentor, the Hon. Percy Sutton. I will never forget his fearless leadership as an extraordinary human being who dedicated his life to providing a voice for us all, paving the road of valuable opportunities for future generations.

(Farrah Gray is author of “The Truth Shall Make You Rich: The New Road Map to Radical Prosperity,” “Get Real, Get Rich: Conquer the 7 Lies Blocking You from Success” and the international best-seller “Reallionaire: Nine Steps to Becoming Rich from the Inside Out.” He is chairman of the Farrah Gray Foundation. Dr. Gray can be reached via e-mail at or his website at


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