Dave Chappelle noted the irony of speaking to students recently at Allen University, a historically black college in South Carolina where his great-grandfather Bishop William David Chappelle had served as president (and whose name adorns the administration building and auditorium where he spoke), since he’s the first in his family not to even attend college.
But Chappelle still had words of wisdom for the students, as he has become more reflective and active offstage in the past decade.
What he told them:
“For all the things that I’ve done, I’m most renowned for what I didn’t do. I’ve made decisions in my career that a lot of people have called insane. In 2004, I had $50 million deal on the table, and in a crisis of conscience, flipped the table over. And walked away. Went to South Africa. Everyone said I was running away from the money. That is not true. In fact, I still want that money. The idea that I wanted to just share with you guys is the idea that sometimes you do what you think is best, whether anybody understands it or not. I heard a story about my father where somebody told me he used to do statistics for a company in D.C. The company he did statistics for started doing business with the South African government. So he quit his job. It caused a lot of problems between him and his wife. It’s hard for a man when he can’t provide for his family the way he wants to, and he suffered through it. And a generation later when I had my crisis of confidence, I was able to go to a free South Africa and get away from the heat. This idea that what you do in your lifetime informs the generation that comes after you is something I keep thinking about. It’s something that’s so much bigger than just ourselves. And today I’m standing in front of you guys, and I know you’re bored. But I see family of mine in the front row, some of whom that I’ve never met, and I just realize how all of us are connected. That my great-grandfather built something more substantial than buildings. He built a community. And he built, more importantly than a community, he built a way. So I’m very grateful, very grateful.
(aside) Hello, police. (laughs) I saw him standing over there, you know what I mean. He’s standing over there, like, ‘so this is what black people talk about.’
I just want you guys to remember that right now, there’s this thing where ethics aren’t what they used to be. This idea that people are trying to replace the ideas of good and bad with better or worse. And that is incorrect. You’ve got to keep your ethics intact because good and bad is a compass that helps you find the way. The person that only does what’s better or worse is the easiest type of person to control. They are a mouse in a maze that just finds the cheese. But the one who knows about good and bad will realize that he’s in a maze. So, that being said, I just hope that all of you guys transcend whatever you see as your obstacles, and that you live outstanding lives, and that you stay connected to your communities because you have so much power there, and that you grow your communities and you diversify your communities and that you don’t let anybody – anybody – tell you you can’t or to be afraid. It’s OK to be afraid, because you can’t be brave or courageous without fear. The idea of being courageous is that even though you’re scared, you just do the right thing anyway. So in 2004 I walked away from $50 million. And in November, I made a deal for $60 million. So…although I am not the most famous comedian of my time, I would like to know what their great-grandfathers did. I am very proud today. Thank you very much.”
Chappelle’s first two stand-up specials in more than a decade premiere Tuesday on Netflix.
Here’s the footage from CBS This Morning:
And Chappelle practices what he preaches. Because earlier this month, he spoke at his town council meeting in Yellow Springs, Ohio.