COMPTON — "And here's the host of 'Black Fact,' your friend and mine, the ever-popular Frank Wheaton!"
From stage left, Frank Kahlil Wheaton comes bounding up to the television lights, wearing his best Hollywood game-show grin and a natty maroon sport coat over gray slacks. Never mind the microphone cord trailing out of his left pant leg.
"Thank you, thank you," Wheaton says in a booming, self-assured voice. "Well, we finally made it, here we are, the final game of 'Black Fact' competition, with the Community Redevelopment Agency versus the city attorney!"
Applause swells again.
On the contestant platform behind him sits the three-member team from the city attorney's office. Legal secretary Omega Shepherd claps and beams as if just blessed with what would be her ninth grandchild. But on the next row, redevelopment agency Project Manager Laurence Adams sits stone-faced alongside his comrades, like a tough guy capable of kicking dirt on his mother's shoes if it meant 25 points in the bonus round.
Any other day, they would be congenial colleagues in the employ of the City of Compton. But on this Wednesday afternoon, they and their teammates are about to square off in a verbal fight to the finish. At stake is a $900 grand prize--to be split between the three winners--plus the distinction of being experts of a sort in a series of subjects that no one takes for granted in Compton, where 75% of the population is black.
The event is the last of 14 videotapings of the homespun game show called "Black Fact," which is being shown twice weekly--at 6:30 Thursday and Friday nights--over the area's cable television channel throughout the month of February. With a few thousand dollars and a lot of creativity, it has been produced by the city-financed Community Communications Network as a way of celebrating what since 1976 has been national Black History Month.
Over the past seven weeks, teams from 14 city departments have gone head to head, testing who knows the most about four topics: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, Black History, Black Issues Today and--killer of killers--Bonus Round Compton Trivia. The latter category even felled the man who bears the nickname "Mr. Compton," 55-year-old City Councilman Maxcy D. Filer.
"I forgot, there are 13 parks in Compton, not 12," says a sighing Filer, who anchored a council team that from time to time included Mayor Walter R. Tucker, Councilwoman Jane D. Robbins and Chief of Staff Paul H. Richards.
'I Enjoyed Playing'
"I enjoyed playing it and I'm happy to say that the young minds are much quicker than mine," Filer says. "If they had given me time I could have answered every question. . . . I guess that's just it, you don't have much time. The questions were very good, too; they didn't just pull them out of the air."
But give the city fathers a break. "We made it to the semifinals, I believe," Filer says proudly.
On this day, however, as the finalists sit basking in the hot lights of the council chamber-turned-studio, it looks as if neither team will happily settle for second best.
The redevelopment agency contestants--Adams, Michael Nuby and Napoleon Herron--appear businesslike and confident. But their dozen or so backers are already cocky, whooping and waving large paper letters that spell out CRA. Department head Myrna M. De Jean nods approvingly at her squad and pronounces, "You guys look good."
Meanwhile, the city attorney team--Shepherd, Hudena James and Taalib-Din Moussa--tries to appear hopeful, but is clearly uncertain. The game begins, and the first question goes unanswered by both sides. Early jitters, no doubt. Then the city attorney team comes out smoking.
"From what educational institution did Dr. King receive his Ph.D?" Beep! "Omega," calls game show host Wheaton. "Ah . . . Boston University," Shepherd fires. "Boston University is right!"
Applause swells, and the score is 50 to 0. The city attorney team relaxes slightly, but contestant James still slips off his coat, knowing that early leads are often short-lived.
"What national fraternity did Martin Luther King belong to?" Beep! "Hudena," says Wheaton, an occasional actor and recent founder of a Hollywood sports and entertainment management agency. "Phi Beta Kappa?" Wrong. "Alpha Phi Alpha," counters Nuby of CRA. Correct, and the score is quickly tied.
The next question is another stumper. Then Moussa lands two lightning blows, identifying North Carolina as the home state of U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, who filibustered against making King's birthday a national holiday, and Booker T. Washington High School as the place where the civil rights leader got his secondary education.
The score jumps to 150 to 50. "Damn . . . damn," mutters one CRA booster, whose enthusiasm has suddenly grown reserved.