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Gary Coleman: The Life of a Legendary Child Actor

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By Robyn H. Jimenez, Special to the NNPA from the Dallas Examiner –

(NNPA) - Gary W. Coleman was perhaps the most famous child star in history. He was known for his small stature, lovable charm and incredible talent as a young comedic actor.

Born in Illinois Feb. 8, 1968, he was adopted by a forklift operator and nurse practitioner.

At less than 5 ft. tall, Coleman’s child-like appearance never seemed to mature due to a congenital kidney disease, which caused him to stop growing at a very early age. He also suffered from seizures, according to reports.

Coleman underwent a kidney transplant in 1973. A few years later, he landed a role on The Jefferson’s and Good Times as George’s precocious nephew Raymond, who came for a 6-week stay. His character quickly began driving George crazy, while winning the heart of the wife, Louise.

He also played Gary James, a tiny participant with a big character in a play that Penny – played by Janet Jackson – was directing, on Good Times. Coleman stormed in like a whirlwind, delivering one hilarious line after the other perfectly. And then he was gone.

In 1976, Norman Lear created Different Strokes, featuring Coleman as an adorable, unpredictable, smart-mouth little boy. The cast included Todd Bridges, who played Arnold’s older brother Willis; Conrad Bain, who played Philip Drummond, a wealthy widower who adopted the boys, Dana Plato, who played Kimberly, Philip’s daughter and Charlotte Rae, who played Edna Garrett, the lovable housekeeper.

Ironically, Coleman and Plato were both adopted.

The show later included Dixie Carter, Philip’s new wife, and Danny Cooksey, who played her son.

Coleman became famous for his line, “Whatcha talkin bout Willis?” The show brought in celebrities and athletes, such as Mr. T, Reggie Jackson, In 1979 he starred in the movie, The Kid From Left Field. He also appeared on the Lucille Ball Special, where he was applauded for his comedic timing.

He received a People’s Choice Award, in 1980.

In 1981, Coleman starred in On the Right Track as Lester, a homeless boy who lived in the railway and made a living as a shoeshine boy.

He also starred in the 1982 film, The Kid with the Broken Halo playing Andy, an irreverent angel-in-training who is constantly getting in trouble. Later that year, he was featured in The Gary Coleman Show, an animated show based on his angelic character, Andy. The show ran for 13 episodes.

Coleman’s health continued to decline and he had to have a second kidney transplant, in 1984. Afterwards, he had to receive dialysis on a daily basis. Yet, he continued to work. In a televised interview, Coleman once talked about how exhausted he was at times, during the taping of the show. Bridges stated in an Internet interview a few months ago, that Coleman’s parents were making him work, even when he was rejecting his kidney and again after his surgery.

“Throwing up, deathly ill, looking like he was death warmed over… and I started crying because I couldn’t believe his parents were forcing him to work,” Bridges stated, remembering a time when he was sick with a fever and his mother told him to stay home from work and called in for him. He went on to say that his mother was informed that if she didn’t get him to the set, he was fired. “And my mother said, ‘Well, you’re going to have to fire him then, because he ain’t coming back. The studio sent a physician to validate the illness and Bridges was cleared to stay home.

This wasn’t the first time allegations had been made of Coleman being forced to work despite his illness.

When Different Strokes ended in 1986, Coleman’s career began to fall apart. Afterwards, he refused to communicate with anyone that had anything to do with the show.

Throughout the years, the three original siblings had various run-ins with the law. Plato admitted to abusing prescription drugs while she was still with the show. She continued to misuse drugs and was arrested twice before overdosing and ending her life. Bridges reveals his issues with drugs and the law in an autobiography that was released earlier this year. Coleman admittedly had anger management problems, which led to his arrest.

On one occasion, he was brought up on charges of battery toward a woman who asked him to autograph a piece of paper. He agreed, but after signing it, she gave it back to him and asked him to write more. According to Coleman, when he refused, the woman began making unkind remarks about his career. Bridges described Coleman as a bitter little man, but said he didn’t blame him after all he had been through.

Coleman took his parents and advisers to court in 1989, suing them for misappropriating his $3.8 million trust fund. In 1993, they reached a settlement of just over $1 million, in Coleman’s favor. He never recovered his relationship with his parents, who many say goes much deeper than just money.

During an interview in 1993, he discussed his deep depression and having attempted suicide twice. In 1999, he filed for bankruptcy.

In 2003, during the gubernatorial recall election for California governor, Coleman threw his hat into the ring with 134 other candidates, of which many were celebrities. In November, Arnold Schwarzenegger won the votes and was sworn in as governor.

In 2005, Coleman began working as a commentator, covering the Michael Jackson trial for All Comedy Radio.

In March 2007, shocking footage of Coleman working as a security guard was released on national television show. The public was partly shocked that the child star had to take a low-paying job at a shopping mall. But the public was also shocked that, in an attempt to block someone from taking photos of another well-known celebrity, Coleman climbed on the person’s vehicle and began threatening to break one of the driver’s windshield wipers.

Later that year, he was featured in commercials for Cash Call, a national personal and mortgage loan agency.

On Aug. 28, 2007, Coleman married Shannon Price, his 22-year-old girlfriend that he had been dating for only five months. The marriage stayed hidden from the public for six months. He said that they met on the set of Church Ball, a comedy about a team of misfits on a church basketball team whose goal toward brotherly love and sportsmanship comes up against a competitive drive to the championship. Coleman said in an interview, that Price was his first love and his first romantic relationship.

The couple made appearances on a few daytime talk shows, professing their love for one another. But when asked why they had not revealed their marriage for several months, Coleman stated, “It’s nobody’s business what we do.”

The two were far from living happily-ever-after. In the past three years, police have been called out to the Coleman residence several times for domestic disturbance. Some reports indicate that there have been over 20 police visits to the home, including domestic disputes and suicide attempts. They attempted to resolve their issues by appearing on Divorce Court, in May 2008, to get advice from Judge Lynn Toler.

While back in chambers, the two said that they mainly fought about having children. After suffering greatly from his kidney disease since early childhood, Coleman was worried about his children having to struggle through the same thing. Not knowing who his parents were, he couldn’t be sure if it was inherited or if there were other disorders that he was unaware of. However, his wife was sure that the chance of having a sick child was slim.

“We may go a week and not speak to each other,” he said in a televised interview, denying that they had a volatile relationship.

Eleven months ago, his wife was arrested for domestic violence; both were cited for disorderly conduct. But at the beginning of this year, Coleman was arrested for domestic violence, according to reports. He made television appearances to tell his side of the story and ended up losing his temper. At times he used vulgarity towards his aggressive interviewers.

During one of those appearances, he is shown yelling at his interviewer, after being provoked regarding statements of domestic violence, then walking off of the set. It was reported that he suffered from a seizure shortly after and was rushed to the hospital after being examined by Dr. Drew Pinsky of Celebrity Rehab, who happened to be in the studio at the time.

On May 27, Coleman was injured in his home. Details of the accident have not been released, however, it was reported that he had a head injury that lead to a brain hemorrhage. He was reportedly awake and lucid initially, but fell into a comma hours later and was placed on life support.

The next day, his wife made the decision to take him off of life support and he died soon after. The official cause of his death is still under investigation. Though sometimes scoffed at, the legendary actor is remembered fondly throughout the country. Coleman was 42.

Information taken from viewed clipped of interviews on NBC Today, The Insider, Fox News, Inside Edition and The Young Turks. Filmography obtained from The Internet Movie Database.

Chevron Bars Niger Delta Activist From Shareholder Meeting

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Special to the NNPA from the GIN –

(GIN) – Activist Emem Okon of the Niger Delta was among 17 people representing oil-producing communities in Angola, Ecuador, Burma, the Philippines and around the world to be locked out of a shareholders meeting on May 30 by the oil giant Chevron.

Ms. Okon, who traveled to Houston, Texas, from Nigeria’s oil-rich Delta region, said she came to urge the company “to clean up the environment, end gas flaring, and to respect their human rights policies, which call for two-way communication between Chevron and the community people,” she said.

Police arrested five protestors with The True Cost of Chevron Network who had rallied to call attention to Chevron’s human rights and environmental record.

In a radio interview, Ms. Okon said: “I came to tell Chevron that they have oppressed in the Niger Delta region with impunity for the past fifty years, poisoning our waters, devastating our environment, killing the fish we eat, burning poison gas through gas flares that has caused cancer, asthma, corroding our roofs. And they have not done anything to alleviate the sufferings of the people as the result of their activities.”

“I am surprised at the attention that the BP oil spill has attracted in the United States,” she continued, “and I expect that the condition in the Niger Delta should attract the same coverage… Chevron (should) stop their inhuman activity and abuse of human rights in the Niger Delta region.

Rwandans Lock Up U.S. Lawyer In Genocide Dispute

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Special to the NNPA from the GIN –

(GIN) – US lawyer Peter Erlinder is behind bars in Rwanda, days after his arrival in the Central African country. He had come to defend Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, an alleged genocide denier, and political opponent of the current president, Paul Kagame.

Dozens of lawyers and their organizations have appealed for Erlinder’s release. "There can be no justice for anyone if the state can silence lawyers for defendants whom it dislikes…," said David Gespass, president of the National Lawyers Guild.

Rwanda's 1994 genocide claimed the lives of more than 500,000 people, mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The massacres ended when mostly Tutsi rebels led by Kagame defeated the mostly Hutu extremist perpetrators.

Ingabire, a Hutu, returned to Rwanda in January after 16 years of living abroad. She says she returned to Rwanda because the country needs an open discussion to promote reconciliation.

In a visit to a memorial to Tutsis killed in the 1994 genocide, she asked why Hutus who also died weren't remembered. She was arrested as a “genocide denier” and is free on bail. Her case drew the attention of Erlinder, a law professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. If convicted, Ingabire, 41, could be sentenced to more than two decades in prison. US Ass’t Sec’y of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson accused the Kigali government of restricting freedom prior to presidential polls in August, in which Ms Ingabire is a challenger.

President Paul Kagame is a Tutsi former rebel leader who came to power to end the killings. His forces have been accused of massacring Hutus after the genocide ended.

Southern Christian Leadership Conference Dispute Boils Over

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Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

(NNPA) - The feud between two factions of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference has come to a head over an alleged break-in at the group’s Atlanta headquarters. A hearing has been scheduled for June 2 to settle the matter.

The Rev. Markel Hutchins, who claims he was named interim president, CEO and CFO of the group, welded shut the back doors of the headquarters and padlocked three gates May 17. His rivals, including SCLC Chairwoman Sylvia Tucker, dispute his claims to those positions and said he had no authority to lock the facility.

"This conduct is criminal and deplorable," Tucker said in a statement after the incident. "It is like a hate crime."

The Rev. Bernard LaFayette, a supporter of president-elect, Bernice King, agreed with Tucker when he told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that Hutchins “admitted that he went into the office and he was unauthorized. He disabled the fire alarm, the water and the electricity. He got a welder to weld up the back door. He took files from the office. I understand now he took one of those [computer] monitors. His behavior is described as breaking and entering.”

Hutchins said the allegations of theft are a lie and said that’s he’s only given to the organization.

"I made the decision to secure the building," Hutchins told the Associated Press. "I am not responsible for the mess the SCLC is in, but I will be responsible for helping to right some of the wrongs and get the organization back on course to fulfill its mission."

Padlocks and chains were cut and removed from the building on May 19.

The barring of the SCLC building was the latest incident in a prolonged fight over the removal of two former board members, ex-chairman Raleigh Trammell and ex-treasurer Spiver Gordon, over allegations that the two mismanaged SCLC funds. Since then the group has suffered from severe infighting over who are the true board members.

Building the New Haiti – Creating a Place for African-Americans at the Table

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By Ron Daniels –

(NNPA) - As President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW) and Founder of the Haiti Support Project (HSP), I have just returned from leading a team to Haiti to allocate the first contributions from the IBW/HSP Haiti Relief Fund.

A total of $56,000 was distributed to nine community-based/grassroots organizations including women's, youth and peasant groups for relief and capacity-building. Deeply concerned about the plight of Haitian children orphaned by the disastrous earthquake, our team also visited orphanages and assessed the progress of the Oasis Institute, an ambitious initiative designed to relocate orphans and extended family members from tent communities to an interim camp with safe/secure environment, post-traumatic stress counseling and a world class education.

The ultimate goal is to construct a permanent campus as home for the orphans. Though adoption may be necessary as an option of last resort, Oasis Institute is designed to keep the vast majority of Haitian children in Haiti to be nurtured and educated within their own culture so they can become the new engaged citizens and leaders of the world's first Black Republic.

This Initiative has the potential to become a model to significantly impact Haiti's system of social welfare as it relates to orphans. As such, it is a major priority of HSP and the IBW Black Family Summit Task Force on Preserving Children and Families in Haiti. Taken together, the commitments above are consistent with HSP's mission of providing humanitarian and developmental assistance as part of the reconstruction effort in Haiti.

Another goal of our team's visit was to vigorously explore avenues to mobilize/organize African- American administrative and technical skills, entrepreneurial expertise and investment capacity to effectively contribute to the short, medium and long term process of building the new Haiti. Because of a 15-year history of building a constituency for Haiti in the U.S. with a principal focus on educating and organizing African-Americans, HSP has received numerous inquiries about opportunities to secure contracts, to invest and/or to start business ventures in Haiti.

Clearly Haitians will take primary responsibility for the reconstruction of their country in conjunction with the Haitian Diaspora -- which contributes nearly two billion in remittances annually as well as other valuable resources to the homeland. But, HSP believes African Americans and people of African descent in the U.S. can be an invaluable third leg in the reconstruction process. Black America has an estimated 800 million to one billion in consumer power and a large reservoir of business and professional people who can potentially be tapped to play a significant role in building the new Haiti. The question is whether there will be a place at the table for African-Americans.

Our experience over the past 15 years suggests that there is no resistance to African-Americans investing and starting businesses in Haiti. Indeed, we have encountered many Haitians in the Government and the private sector who have welcomed, even pleaded with us to encourage African- Americans to invest in the economic development of the country.

This posture was emphatically re-enforced when our team, which included representatives of the Atlanta-based Joe Beasley Foundation (JBF), met with Patrick Delatour, the minister of tourism, who has been designated to be the director of reconstruction by President Rene Gracia Preval. Minister Delatour not only welcomed the idea of African American investment and business development in Haiti, he views it as an extension of the long relationship between African-Americans and Haitians in terms of the historical struggle for freedom and self-determination. He outlined a range of investment opportunities, especially in the tourism related sector in the Cap Haitien/Milot region of the country where HSP has launched the Model City Initiative.

Tourism was a major component of the development plan for Haiti prior to the earthquake and has become even more important in its aftermath. HSP devised the Model City Initiative to encourage African-Americans and friends of Haiti to visit the Citadel, a magnificent mountaintop fortress built by King Henri Christophe after the Revolution to deter further invasions by the French.

It is one of the great symbols of freedom and hope in the Pan African world. Working collaboratively with the Destination Haiti Foundation, HSP's principal partner on the ground in Haiti, the goal of the Model City Initiative is to transform the lovely town of Milot, which is nestled at the foot of the mountain where the Citadel stands, into a Mecca for cultural-historical tourism. We believe cultural-historical tourism will be the foundation for people-based economic development in Milot and the northern region of the country. There are huge opportunities for African Americans to invest and develop businesses in this region.

Minister Delatour not only agrees with the goals of the Model City Initiative, developing Milot as a tourist destination is a priority within his plan for the northern region. Hence, we have been working together to make this vision a reality. Accordingly, he was pleased to meet the representatives of the Joe Beasley Foundation, which has substantial skills and resources to contribute to the development of Milot and the north. In fact, he agreed to accept an invitation to travel to Atlanta as a special guest of HSP and the Beasley Foundation to participate in George Fraser's Power Networking Conference which brings upwards to 3,000 - 4,000 Black businesses and professionals together for three days of extraordinary skill development workshops and inspirational plenary sessions.

Minister Delatour will address the Town Hall Meeting, which is the kick-off event for the conference and make a presentation on investment opportunities in Haiti at an information session immediately following the Town Hall Meeting. Minister Delatour's visit definitively underscores the interest of the Government of Haiti in enlisting African-Americans to play a leading role in building the new Haiti.

Minister Delatour's visit is also an expression of support for HSP as an organization with a proven track record of promoting the first Black Republic in Black America to engage people of African descent in the process of democracy and development in Haiti.

In this regard, I was delighted that representatives of the Joe Beasley Foundation were part of the HSP team that met with Minister Delatour. Organized in honor of my long-time friend and ally Joe Beasley (who traveled with me to Haiti on our very first delegation in 1995), JBF has assembled an awesome array of conscious and highly talented/skilled professionals and business persons who are committed to making a difference in Haiti. Since our initial visit to Haiti, Joe Beasley - whom I have affectionately dubbed "Ambassador" because of his fervent commitment to global empowerment of African people -has consistently collaborated with HSP on a range of initiatives in addition to developing/supporting projects of his choosing. Based on our long-standing relationship, it seems logical that HSP and JBF should forge a major collaboration to maximize the mobilization of African-American technical resources, investment and business development as we seek to engage the process of building the new Haiti.

That process is now underway. When it is finalized, the HSP/JBF collaborative will serve as one of the major vehicles for African-Americans seeking to do business with the government and private sector agencies and function as a clearinghouse to review proposals for investment and/or creation of business ventures as part of the process of assisting interested concerns to navigate the environment in Haiti. Equally important, the HSP/JBF collaborative will proactively mobilize investment for priority projects within the framework of the Model City Initiative in Milot and the northern region of Haiti in accordance with Minister Patrick Delatour's plan to make this region one of the major poles of the reconstruction process. Milot and the Citadel may well become the face of the new Haiti and the HSP/JBF collaborative will be in the very center of the process.

In previous articles, I have called the building of the new Haiti a "pan-African project" which should involve the engagement of people of African descent from around the world. The resurrection of Haiti from the ashes of the catastrophic earthquake will be one of the great triumphs of the 21st century, and business/economic development will be one of the driving engines of this monumental achievement. There is a place at the table for African-Americans to play a significant role in this phenomenal endeavor. The HSP/JBF collaborative will be a crucial vehicle in mobilizing/organizing African- Americans to assist Haiti to once again become a powerful symbol of freedom and hope for African people and the world!

Dr. Ron Daniels is president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com. To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at info@ibw21.org.

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