Rafee Kamaal, whose primary goal as an entrepreneur and television producer was to enrich the lives of African Americans and the Diaspora with such television shows as “In the Black: Keys to Success” one of the first financial empowerment and healthcare series of its kind, made his transition on October 3, in Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. He was 75.
His nephew Kyle Williams confirmed, Kamaal died after a long bout with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Kamaal was a man of integrity, a gentleman, who only had positive things to say and was willing to assist or give advice to those in the business, as well as friends or family who just needed a comforting ear. He had over 40 years in the entertainment field as the founder and CEO of RAKA Communications, Inc., a multimedia marketing, distribution and production company. The company created a multi-platform, multicultural, multigenerational, healthy aging, wealth accumulation, longevity enhancing, video streaming television network, and e-commerce service. “A true Gentlemen, a true Friend and Great Inspirator for over 51 years,” stated Carlos Martinez, associate and friend.
His name never became a household word but throughout his career he remained the quiet warrior opening doors in the industry for future generations while earning a reputation as a dedicated creative force. He noted, “Back then I learned everything so I wouldn’t have to depend on anyone. I probably would have never been involved in the business if it wasn’t for Cliff Frazier and Third World Cinema and the Institute of New Cinema Artists (INCA), where I learned everything from directing to producing and much more.”
Following his completion of Third World Cinema, he was successful in landing positions on two major films, first as a trainee on “Super Fly” (1972) that starred Ron O’Neal, directed by Gordon Parks and produced by Sig Shore. It was the highest-grossing blaxploitation film at the time. The film’s soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield was one of the most popular to this day. The Harlem community backed “Super Fly” financially, and a number of Black businesses helped with the production costs.
Following “Super Fly,” he was a trainee on “Across 110th Street,” also filmed in Harlem (1972), that starred Anthony Quinn with executive producers, Yaphet Koto and Anthony Franciosa. The film’s soundtrack featured the hit single by the same name sung by Bobby Womack. “I was basically a gopher on both films but I learned a lot being exposed to the many aspects of film making but I was making very little money,” stated Kamaal during one of our many conversations.
Following his film experience, he was looking for new projects when he came across an article in the Amsterdam News about a husband and wife production team, Fred and Felicidad Dukes. “I really liked what they were doing and their Black perspective, so I followed up with a phone call and letter,” said Kamaal. “I hounded them for six months before they finally decided to give me a chance.”
He worked with them as an associate producer on the teen-dance series “Soul Alive” (WPIX-TV) featuring Black teens from various NYC high schools. The show, hosted by popular radio DJ Gerry Bledsoe, was a big hit in the Black community; the teens loved the show. “Soul Alive” also featured live performances by such artists as Al Green and was the first dance show to show videos which was at least eight years before the start of MTV or BET. From 1980-84, he worked with the Dukes as a consulting producer on “Today’s Black Woman” (ABC-TV). It was the first national talk show to be hosted by a Black woman, Freida Payne. Kamaal had noted, “Oprah Winfrey didn’t appear on the TV scene until seven years later.” He also worked on the Miss Black America and New York State Beauty Pageants with the Dukes.
Rafee Kamaal was born William “Bill” A. Easley on January 2, 1947, to William A. Easley Sr. and Sylvia Gwynneth Edmead, in Manhattan where he was raised in Dyckman Houses and graduated from George Washington High School. He was attending Manhattan Community College majoring in business when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Not being a fan of the Vietnam War and the racist social structure, Kamaal managed to get an honorable discharge within six months. Returning to New York he studied at The Lawrence N. Field Center of Entrepreneurship at Baruch College, while working on Wall Street as an accountant. Some years later, after carefully studying and adopting the religion of Islam, Easley changed his name to Rafee Kamaal.
During the early 1970s through 1978 he promoted dances with his friends Stan Smith, Baron Moss and Jose Ibanez (the latter two were high school classmates) at downtown Manhattan clubs like Barney Goggles and Act I which was a penthouse at 10 West 42nd Street (the building noted for the New Year’s Eve Ball dropping). The weekly Sunday night event brought together a host of Black models and celebrities like Walt Frazier of the New York Knicks and designers like Bert Middleton. “Kamaal’s energy will always be in the hearts of those who remember his smile,” said Tony Rogers, consultant and friend.
During 1976, when the world-famous Apollo Theater was under the ownership of Guy Fisher, Kamaal co-produced a series of music/variety specials from the Theater (Westinghouse Broadcasting/Group W), bringing in such acts as the Clarke Sisters, Stephanie Mills and Cab Calloway. He was offered a deal to purchase the theater but was unable to come up with the required financial package to secure the deal. “Scott, I don’t have a lot of regrets but not getting that deal is definitely one,” said Kamaal.
He was constantly working on a number of projects, noting the more irons in the fire, the better. During the years he remained close with his childhood friend from the Dyckman Houses Lew Alcindor, who eventually after studying the Muslim religion changed his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Together the two traveled the world, the NBA all-star conducting sports clinics while Kamaal was the associate producer. He was the co-producer on Jabbar’s NAACP award winning documentary “On the Shoulders of Giants” (Showtime, Netflix).
In 1984 Kamaal was the senior producer/writer/ director/marketing executive on “In The Black: Keys to Success,” a financial empowerment and healthcare series on WWOR-TV. The 30-minute show was very successful and lasted for ten years until 1994. The program was ahead of its time and is relevant enough to still be on-air. Carolyn Jones, advertising consultant, was the host. Some of these shows are currently in the Smithsonian. The show was discontinued due to a lack of sponsors.
He was the producer on a series of international tourism profiles (Bahamas Television), “That Teen Show,” a teen issue-oriented series on NBC-TV, as well as assignments on a number of documentaries that included senior producer on a Queen Latifah doc, field producer on a Marilyn Monroe doc and supervising producer on a Reba McEntire doc, all for Lifetime Network. He was the executive producer of “Jazz Visions” (TV series) in 2016. He was an avid jazz fan.
As an executive producer Kamaal created innovative video documentary DVDs that would do well in today’s market such as “How to Start Your Own Successful Business”; “How to Find Employment”; “How to Stay Healthy, Live Longer & Cut Your Medical Costs.”
Kamaal was busy working on multiple projects until his untimely passing which included a book entitled “Take the A Train” with Mal Woolfolk, Carlos Martinez and Ron Scott, that project will continue; and an international project JCAN.TV (Jazzy Cultural Arts Network). You can still visit the website to see the scope of Kamaal’s creative vision.
He was a board president at the Helping Others Alliance, Inc., co-chair of the Black Documentary Collective and on the Board of the International Communications Association/The Dwyer Cultural Center.
His mission was to engage, inspire, educate, empower, entertain and enrich the lives of people globally.
Kamaal is survived by his son Rami Campbell of Los Angeles; sister Trudy Myles of Tampa, Fla.; loving partner Laverne Wright of Westbury, N.Y.; nephews Kyle Williams of Hamden, Conn. and Jabari Donawa of Bronx, N.Y. He is also survived by a host of loving cousins and friends.
A celebration of Kamaal’s life will be held November 5 (4 p.m.-8 p.m.) at the Dwyer Cultural Center (309 West 123rd Street between 8th and St. Nicholas avenues).