Dr. Eric J. Chambers is man of many hats. An award winning journalist, a 4-time Emmy and 5-time Golden Mike Awards winner, Chambers worked as an editor and producer for the CBS2 News in Hollywood and served as an editor and reporter at KGTV10 (ABC). He launched his national TV show, “The Jazzspel with Eric J.” on The Word Network in 2003 and created The CUT (The Chambers Urban TV Network) in 2011 along with a host of other projects.
An ordained pastor and now author of coffee table book, “Dining With The Ancestors: When Heroes Come To Dinner,” Chambers proves it is never too late to reinvent your personal life or profession. He discusses his journey to following his passion and is now reaping not only success but the benefits of walking in his calling.
Chambers’ quest to discover and preserve his own history led to the question, if you could have dinner with anyone from history’s past, who would it be? And what would you talk to them about? He honors past legends as well as today’s hottest and iconic stars, connecting and preserving African American culture and history with personal anecdotes and surprising confessions from celebrities.
Los Angeles Sentinel: How did you come up with the concept for “Dining With The Ancestors?”
Eric J. Chambers: Emmett Till’s mother, Mrs. Mamie Till Mobley, was my surrogate grandmother. We were having dinner in San Diego (pictured in the book), one day after I left The Word Network, I had been there for 9 years and completed 137 episodes and was trying to figure out what my next move would be and then I realize just looking at that picture, I thought man, I’ve dined with Mamie Till, Rosa Parks, Frankie Beverly, Andraé Crouch, Don Cornelius. I’ve dined with some of my heroes.
In December of that year, I was talking to TCT (Total Christian Television) about the possibility of going to their network and at first they said yes. I started preparing to do another episode to start at TCT and the next thing you know they send me a Dear John email, saying we changed our mind. I had already started interviewing some celebrities with questions, because I was going to make it a Black History episode. Instead of asking celebrities, who are you wearing or who are your dating, I started asking who inspires you? Some of the celebs were just loving it and I said maybe I’m on to something here. This was a time where it was a blessing that the door closed. As I continued people loved it. Gladys Knight told me she would like to dine with her cousin who was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., (no one knew that) her mother and Maya Angelou. Kendrick Lamar wanted to dine with Malcolm X and Dr. King. Knight and Lamar are heroes to people, this lets their fans know who their heroes are.
LAS: What is the most common answer you get when asking celebrities who they would like to dine with?
EJC: Dr. King was overall number one, because it’s an easy answer. When I ask this question, its asked to several people on the red carpet. I posed the question and they’ll have a chance to think about it. Tyler Perry stated he would like to dine with civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Earl Chaney and Michael Schwerner, who were murdered in Mississippi, just to say thank you for dying for a cause. Yara Shahidid (“Black-ish”) answered instantaneously, James Baldwin, I was very impressed with her. This was the same thing with Donnie McClurkin who said he would love to dine with Frederick Douglass and Gospel singer, Kurt Carr replied Harriet Tubman. I remind them like sister Harriet Tubman, once you made it, don’t forget to come back and get some of us, because too many times we have people that have made it and they go on to the suburbs and greater lives and they forget to comeback. I am ambassador for the ancestors. People don’t realize this but when Emmett Till was murdered, their blood line was cut off. He was his mother’s only child and she was her mother’s only child. Its takes people like myself who cared about Mrs. Mobely to continue to tell their stories, but at the same time share the stories of so many ancestors.
LAS: Being an ambassador for the ancestors, you keep history alive. How does it feel to be someone who is helping our community to preserve our history?
EJC: Somebody has to do it. I’ve been running around with a microphone since I was 5 years-old, pretending then what I do now. I fell in love with the miniseries, “Roots” back in 1977, that inspired me to find out my history. I remember talking to my great-grandmother and great-grandfather before she died about our roots and slavery.
This is my calling. I worked at CBS and had a blessed career. However, this is my greatest work I’ve ever done. This is my legacy that is now intertwined with all these other people. One of the best things [CBS] ever done for me is let me go, because too many times we get caught up in this ‘I work for CBS or I work for ABC.’ I work for Eric J. Chambers. When you see the front of this book and the productions, that is me. I’m the publisher, writer and author. I laid out the book in three-and-a half days. I’ve never done that before. The beauty of this book, is for those that don’t like history but loved to be entertained, I’m educating and entertaining them at the same time. There are athletes, entertainers and gospel singers in here.
LAS: Your book holds a number of diverse celebrities. Suge Knight is one the most controversial music and public figures in urban and mainstream history. “Dining With The Ancestors” gives viewers a different perspective to the infamous Rap mogul, can you tell me how the interview came about?
EJC: Suge was my favorite of all the interviews and the most unlikely of them. I met him at the Brea Mall in 2013 and I told him about the book. He gave me his cell number. I then ran into him in November 2014 at the Beverly Hilton and asked him who he would like to dine with. He first answered Malcolm X because he wasn’t afraid of the truth. I told him Gladys Knight said she would want to dine with her mother, Maya Angelou and Dr. King and he was intrigued by that. Next thing I know I’m dining with Suge, his wife and kid. We’re laughing and fist bumping for about 45 minutes. He was intrigued that Emmett Till’s mother was my surrogate grandmother.
I asked him if he liked gospel music and he said he likes gospel, but doesn’t like gospel rap. I found that to be quite interesting; you have this rap mogul who doesn’t like gospel rap but likes his grandmother and grandfather’s gospel from Vicksburg, Mississippi, where his family is from. He also informed me that his grandfather Charles wrote a song many years ago called “Corina, Corina.” He said that his grandfather wrote it but White people in the industry stole his publishing, that explains why he is adamant about people not stealing his music. When that song could have financed generations of your family and someone steals it, you’re going to be a lot more protective when it’s your own. I said Suge, you should let me do an interview with you, so I can show this side of you and he said let’s do it. He had just gotten into some trouble in Las Vegas where they had to confiscate his phone, but he said I should have it back in another week or so and the current situation he is in now happened about a month after we had that conversation. I was waiting for him to get his phone back and call him to set something up.
This is an example of what is mentioned in the book of Ecclesiastes 7: 20 that reads ‘For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.’ You have some people who are bible and scripture toting, but their meaner than a junk yard dog and then you have bay boys like Suge and there is a gentle side to them. I respect him for what he did for our culture. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have “California Love” and “How Do You Want It.” He has his place in history, that’s why I was glad to be able to include him in “Dining With The Ancestors.” When I’m promoting the book, I tell people who knew I would have Bishop George D. McKinney Jr. and Suge Knight in the same book. But, behold, here he is and apart of the landscape.
LAS: You are an accomplished journalist and author who has had priceless moments with the elite of Hollywood, athletic heroes, esteemed Bishops and iconic civil rights leaders. Despite personal setbacks, you persevered, continuously attaining success currently with “Dining With The ancestors.” What is the secret to all that you’ve accomplished?
EJC: One of my favorite books is “No Excuses” by Brian Tracy and in the book Brian said that the real secret to success is self-displcine. You have to be prepared to deny yourself, you have to be prepared to lose something and sacrifice a lot. I lost my wife, daughter, home and car. I was evicted twice in one year, including two months before my book came out. I had to get my back to the wall, because I was broke, busted, disgusted and frustrated. No one would hire or help me and then I heard the Lord speak to me, telling me ‘You are on your own, I’ve given you the gift.’ I spoke to students at the Port of Los Angeles High School and I told them you’re born with a gift, these creative eggs, but it takes years for it to develop overtime. The secret is persistence and consistency. There are a lot of people who are interested, but whose committed? With my book, there were five people who were interested in helping me lay it out; however, I was the only one who was committed. When there is a calling on your life, God is not looking for excuses, he’s looking for progress. There is quote by John Mason that saids, ‘There’s people whose lives are waiting to be affected by what God has placed within you.’ There’s people desperate for me to write this book. They didn’t even know it, until they saw this book.” I was desperate to do it and didn’t even realize and after two years of holding on to interviews. What really inspired me was watching T.D. Jakes on a television program, stating, ‘somebody else can win with the hand you’ve been dealt.’
Dining With The Ancestors: When Heroes Come To Dinner is available at www.DiningWithTheAncestors.com.