As I said in my previous post, when I was informed of the news this morning, I absolutely did not believe it at first. Maybe there is some other Jim Kelly who died, I thought; but not THE Jim Kelly. A true pioneer and inspiration to so many people with a genuinely magnetic presence on the screen.
It's even more tragic when you consider that this coming August marks, believe it or not, the 40th anniversary of the first U.S. release of the martial arts classic, Enter the Dragon, with the magnificent Bruce Lee (who died just a month before the film's release) and Kelly.
But among those stunned by the news was actor and martial artist Michael Jai White (Black Dynamite), who, of course, throughout his career, was compared to Kelly.
And that is why I thought White's words upon hearing about the passing of Kelly today were uniquely poignant:
“My world stopped this morning when I learned of the passing of Jim Kelly. He was a pioneer, our first black representation of what a black martial artist is to this world. His look, swagger, martial arts prowess has been an inspiration myself as well as countless others. In Black Dynamite I copied his monochromatic fashion since, his afro, as well has his patented kiai (yell) SUUUEEYY! I am inspired to continue honoring him as I forge forward in this industry.
I've met the man upon occasion and have empathized with his wounds that were afflicted by Hollywood. We first met at Good Earth Restaurant in "97" when I went over to his table an introduced myself as Mike.
He didn't know who I was but he shared his views on the industry and was deeply troubled with how blacks were being treated in Hollywood. In the 70's Black Alpha Males were embraced in movies as logical leads and representations of who we were and currently our media blueprint was that of a buffoonish nature.
We exchanged information and I'd contact him from time to time. I was Mike, the guy from Good Earth and I worried he might feel betrayed when he learned of how much more our paths were similar and that I was, in many ways, seen as "The New Him."
I tried to get him to do cameos in films but the "Hollywounds" were too deep. For now I will train just a little bit harder and focus a little deeper. I, as well as my generation was inspired by Jim Kelly and I have to accept that I may inspire the next. I am saddened that this hero was defeated, by himself or the system and I resolve not to do the same. I accept this baton on behalf of you Master Kelly and Mike from Good Earth's gonna fight on with the swagger and pride he borrows from you!”