By Ebony Underwood
7 years ago on my 14th birthday my father took my sister, Miko, and I out for lunch. We decided to dine at the newly opened Hard Rock Cafe. The music was blaring from the sound system. The walls were filled with an assortment of music memorabilia. I sat for a good 15 minutes in awe and amazement. While Miko and I glanced over the menu, my father left the table for a brief moment. He came back to the table with 2 members from the hip-hop group Whodini & R&B singer, Bobby Brown. I was in complete shock! They all sang an impromptu rendition of Happy Birthday to me. OMG – I was floating. This was one of my best birthdays yet. I looked over at my father and he just smiled. Little did I know that in the months ahead our lives would be changed forever.
THE WAR BEGINS
Nine months later, on December 6, 1988, my father, William Underwood, was arrested. Shocked and completely numbed by the news of his arrest, it took Miko and I six months to actually visit our Dad. While sitting in a tiny visiting room waiting for his arrival, he finally appears. He was wearing an orange jumpsuit and his hands and feet were shackled. All I can remember is him hobbling over to sit down next to us. Miko and I burst into sobbing tears. We were completely devastated and traumatized by the appearance of our Dad chained up like a slave. By the time he finished consoling us, our time was up. The visit was over and he was gone – again.
After that my life became a blur. From what I remember, my thoughts were: Why was Daddy there? What did he do? When is he coming home? None of it made sense. Two years later, he was sentenced to a mandatory minimum 20-years plus LIFE without parole. In disbelief, my range of emotions were: “What? Life? Nooooo… you mean, Forever? He’s never coming back? Ever?” The news of his sentence punctured a wound so deep in my heart I could hardly breathe.
Feeling completely abandoned, my hurt turned into anger. I rebelled against school, my Mom and life. How could my father be locked away forever? He was a music enthusiast. He ate, slept, and breathed music. My father was a prominent music promoter from the late 70s up until his arrest in 1988. He promoted top acts such as Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, Earth, Wind & Fire, Kenny Loggins, Wham, New Edition and Guy. He managed the R&B funk band, Slave and lead singer Steve Arrington. He later went on to discover and manage R&B singer, Johnny Gill, ultimately aligning Johnny with the boy band, New Edition. All I ever saw my father do was talk about music, listen to music and hold meetings with music industry artists, executives and up-and-coming celebrities. Some of these people even testified on behalf of my Dad in court, including recording artist Keith Sweat and an Atlantic Records executive who willingly flew over from London to give testimony to support my Dad during his trial.
Read More The Stain of Mass Incarceration: Exposing the Wound of My Father’s Life Sentence | Vibe.
Please Sign the petition to request clemency for William Underwood: https://www.change.org/p/clemency-for-my-father-william-underwood-serving-life-without-parole
Please sign the petition to request clemency for Sharanda Jones (May 19, 2015 post): https://www.change.org/p/president-barack-obama-sharanda-jones-does-not-deserve-to-die-in-prison