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Alex Haley’s grandson continues foundation work to ‘find the good and praise it’

Andrea Blackstone | 12/8/2014, 6 a.m.
Bill Haley Jr. is no stranger to history, legacy or literature. The father of two from California has been low ...
Bill Haley, Jr. reflects on Alex Haley's motto, "Find the good and praise it," while visiting his grandfather's statue at the city dock in Annapolis on December 1, 2014. (Photo: Andrea Blackstone)

Bill Haley Jr. is no stranger to history, legacy or literature. The father of two from California has been low key about his relationship to Alex Haley in previous years, until an event triggered him to emerge from the shadows. When his father, William “Fella” Haley, Sr., died in 2012, Bill Jr. inherited the task of keeping the Alex Haley Roots Foundation alive.

Before “Roots,” Bill Jr. said he was “a regular kid growing up in New York.” After the famous film debuted when he was twelve, he struggled to sort out if people who approached him had genuine friendly intentions, or if they were simply curious about his well-known grandfather.

Bill Jr. never forgot a particular day that Alex Haley spoke at the Harlem State Office Building. In February 1977, he received his personal copy of “Roots” along with a message.

“He [Alex Haley] got around to signing a book for me. In it, he wrote that I am the ninth generation descendant of Kunta Kinte, and the family is expecting much of me,” He said. “I felt like I was being given a commitment to continue on with the legacy.”

As a new chapter of Bill Jr.’s own story unfolds, he carefully reflects on this mission of the foundation.

“The Alex Haley Roots Foundation really is the original foundation that Alex created back in October 1977. He created it, because he wanted to find a way to help other people—particularly he wanted to help Africans and people with education needs. He said he didn’t desire to have a mansion, or a yacht, or any of those material things. He wanted to do something with some of the profits from “Roots” that would benefit people in a positive way, and not just himself. When Alex was alive, he put many African students—or African-American students— through college. He provided tuition assistance, paid for books and gave college scholarships, which is essentially what he used the foundation to do,” Bill Jr. said.

When Alex Haley died in 1992, the foundation was mostly inactive. His son William Haley revived it around 2009 preserve the legacy. The foundation then passed to Bill Haley Jr. in 2012 when his father died.

“When my dad passed a few years ago, it then fell upon me to determine the direction. I wanted to think of something that would honor the spirit of what Alex was about,” he said.

After praying for answers, Bill Jr. aspired to provide a repository of information for Alex Haley’s works, life and accomplishments.

“He’s known for “Roots,” but there are so many other components to his life, such as a lot of people don’t realize through the interview with Miles Davis in 1962, he established the long form Playboy interview format that appears in the magazine today. The interview with Malcolm X in May of 1963, led to the collaboration with Malcolm X that resulted in the publishing of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which Time magazine rated as one of the top 100 nonfiction books of all time,” Bill Jr. said.

The remaining aspect of Bill Jr.’s mission aligns with Alex Haley’s motto,” find the good and praise it.”

“Being negative is an easy thing to do. Hate is an easy thing to express. It’s more challenging and sustaining— to me— when you can focus on what’s good. Happiness in my mind is not determined by material things. It’s about what you’re grateful for, the people that you’re living around and the family,” he said.

In 2015, Alex Haley’s grandson expects to reveal other ways people can stay focused on the positive aspects of their own lives. He expects the website: www.findthegoodandpraiseit.com to become a platform to share thoughts and reflections about gratitude.

“People understand humanity, no matter where they’re from or who it is,” Bill Jr. said.

For more information about Alex Haley, and The Alex Haley Roots Foundation, visit: www.alexhaley.com.