By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
Today Griff says he just wants "peace," but clearly he remains bitter toward his former group. "There was no investigation," he says. "They had no right to speak. The majority of people [at the record labels] never heard what I said, nor did they just talk to me the way you're talking to me right now. They would rather fire me. That dollar, chump change--or Trump change, really--was being threatened. I feel sorry for Chuck. We grew up together and put Public Enemy together. And then I was fired over the phone, on TV and the newspapers. They just kicked me to the curb. And that's when my family was threatened."
IN THE YEAR SINCE the Washington Times article, Professor Griff has never publicly apologized for his anti-Semitic comments. But that changed dramatically last week, thanks in large part to a twenty-year-old Florida International University student named Sam Rogatinsky.
Three years ago Rogatinsky moved with his family from Houston to Miami. While studying at FIU (he aspires to become an attorney), Rogatinsky grew concerned about the widespread lack of knowledge regarding Jewish history. Having attended the Hebrew Academy of Greater Miami, having lost family to the Holocaust, and having listened to his paternal grandparents describe in harrowing detail their survival in hiding during the Nazi atrocities (they were literally underground for years), Rogatinsky became convinced there simply "wasn't enough awareness." With an older brother and two friends, he formed the National Holocaust Awareness Student Organization, and began recruiting members. Today he serves as the group's president.
Rogatinsky is familiar with rap music. In fact, he likes it a great deal (he once interviewed Tone Loc for FIU's campus radio station), especially the hip-hop of Big Daddy Kane and, yes, even Public Enemy. But the furor that ensued after the publication of Griff's remarks overshadowed Rogatinsky's appreciation for the music. One day a few months ago, he recalls, he was at the Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach when a group of students from an inner-city high school came through on a tour. He asked if he could say a few words to the visitors. "I asked them how many had heard of Public Enemy. Their eyes lit up," he recounts. "Then I asked how many knew Professor Griff. Their eyes lit up again. I asked them how Professor Griff's comments about Jews made them feel. Nobody said much. A group of them came over to talk some more, and one kid said, `Griff's successful, he's been involved, so he must know what he's talking about.' That one person was one too many."
When Rogatinsky learned that Professor Griff had signed a record contract with Miami's Luke Records, he saw an opportunity to take action. On April 13, he sent a letter to company president Luther Campbell. "We find it difficult to comprehend your recent acceptance of Professor Griff," Rogatinsky wrote. "He has repeatedly made cruel anti-Semitic remarks about Jewish people. . . . They are hurtful, malevolent and contempt filled." About a month later, Rogatinsky wrote directly to Griff and requested an apology. He also mentioned that "both Jews and blacks face daily prejudices and injustices; therefore, it is difficult to comprehend any conflicts that exist between the two groups." After receiving the letter, Griff telephoned Rogatinsky and challenged the accuracy of Rogatinsky's interpretation. He also asserted that the media can twist reality into something ugly any time they please. Earlier this month Professor Griff and Sam Rogatinsky met face to face for the first time. The setting was neutral territory--a photographer's studio in Miami Beach. Griff had dressed for the occasion: black hat, black shirt, black pants, black shoes, and a Luke Skyywalker athletic jacket. Rogatinsky, the model student, wore a dress shirt, slacks and brown penny loafers. Two more incongruous images of American youth hardly could be imagined. When they were introduced in the studio, Griff stood up to shake Rogatinsky's outstretched hand. "Wow!" Griff exclaimed. "I pictured you being taller, with glasses and graying hair." Rogatinsky, smiling, replied, "I pictured you much bigger." As photos were taken, the two launched into lively conversation:
Griff: "All that blacks know is that the Jews own everything, they're the bosses. Blacks know nothing about the history, and someone has to bridge that gap."
Griff: "I have the vehicle--the music."
Rogatinsky: "Would Louis Farrakhan do it?"
Griff: "I believe he would. I need to get you tape of him meeting with rabbis. I use the means I have, you use the means you have, and we can bridge this gap. Give me the facts."
Rogatinsky: "You would do this?"
Rogatinsky: "I hate to think that blacks and Jews would be fighting each other. Our people both were enslaved. I understand what your people are going through."
Griff: "It's one big mess. But we don't need to be fighting each other."
Then Griff brightened and said to Rogatinsky, "This is a rarity. I mean, you're actually opening up to me."
Apparently, at one point, the two realized that the trouble with life in America isn't so much the result of ethnic differences as it is the trickle-down of a corrupt system. As the conversation turned to American politics, Rogatinsky asked Griff why he hasn't addressed that subject through his music. Griff seemed a bit confused by the question. That is one of the most prominent subjects of his debut album. A surprised Rogatinsky had to admit that he hadn't yet listened to the whole record.