Farewell to a beloved elder: Activists reflect on Belafonte

Streaming HUBApril 26, 2023

NEW YORK (AP) – Carmen Berkley, a strategist for a Seattle-based foundation that advocates for equity and racial justice, remembers meeting Harry Belafonte a decade ago, when she was a youth activist.

She was in Florida to participate in a sit-in protest that other young black activists staged at the capitol in Tallahassee over the death of Trayvon Martin, shot in 2012 by a resident of a gated community who killed Martin. had decided to have a look. Suspicious. Berkeley recalls “this magical moment” when Belafonte showed up to encourage the Capitol protesters.

“She gave us hope. She reminded us that we matter, that we are powerful and that we deserve freedom and justice in our lifetimes,” said Berkeley, vice president of strategy and impact at the Intai Foundation. He said, “There is no one like Mr. B.” “Humble and kind, generous and focused, and a true advocate for artists, advocates, and all communities who want to be free.”

Belafonte, who died Tuesday at the age of 96, was a close friend and ally of the Rev. Martin Luther King and stepped back from a lucrative and path-breaking career in music and acting and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. devoted himself to. , But his legacy extended far beyond his generational peers. Over the past half-century, for full-time workers and for artists and celebrities eager to do more than entertain, Belafonte has endured as a role model, mentor and occasional scold, a village elder who guides young people. Dedicated to giving advice on how to advocate for their rights and to reminding those who do not fulfill their potential to change minds.

“So many have stepped into a legacy they helped create,” said David J. Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, which has a mission to end racism, homophobia, and LGBTQ/SGL prejudice and stigma. . Shortly before news broke that Belafonte had died, Johns was on a panel in Miami, Florida, discussing equality and the preservation of democracy.

“I was talking about the importance of being daring and disruptive in the spirit of dreamers like Baird Rustin, James Baldwin and Harry Belafonte,” he said.

The tributes Belafonte received after his death confirmed his prodigious stature: praise from President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama, whom Belafonte criticized at times for not doing enough for the poor; from Oprah Winfrey and Spike Lee; Viola Davis and Questlove; who tweeted that Belafonte “taught me to think in terms of ‘we’ not ‘me'”. He stuck with me. If there is one lesson we can learn from him, it is ‘What can I do to help mankind?'”

Cheryl Brown, an organizer within the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of advocacy organizations alongside BLM, remembers Belafonte as “a steady touchstone for so many young organizers.”

Brown said, “He would be the first to voice his support for young people stepping forward, and never tried to calm the angst or the anger or the frustration that we were feeling.” “He never campaigned on us. Instead, he validated the work we were doing, opened his doors, cleared space for us, and always listened.

Brown said, as a veteran of the movement, he led by example.

“I saw in this icon, this giant, a change in my own political development and thinking,” she said. “It taught me that you are never too old or wise to learn and grow.”

Belafonte mentored Danny Glover, Common, Usher and many other public figures, and also maintained close alliances with those with whom he frequently argued. Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, recalled the evolution of Belafonte’s relationship with her family. He questioned John F. Kennedy’s awareness of racism and was openly suspicious of his father after JFK appointed him as his attorney general, recalling that he had attacked the staff of extreme anti-communist Sen. Joseph McCarthy. has worked.

“They had their differences at times, but they respected and loved each other deeply,” says Kennedy. “They weren’t afraid to challenge each other and be honest with each other.”

Kerry Kennedy is president of the non-profit organization Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Belafonte was a board member, continuing with the center’s activities until his death. When asked if he ever discussed with Belafonte his reasons for becoming an activist, he laughed and said that you can’t even have a conversation over lunch without Belafonte’s subject “going back to civil rights and social justice”. Can do

His disagreements with Belafonte were often educational for both of them. She recounts to him that her grandfather, businessman, investor and government official Joseph P. Kennedy, had amassed his fortune through the exploitation of black people. Kennedy told him that he was wrong, that he had never owned slaves or profited from slave labor.

“But I realized that of course, you can’t make money in this country without black exploitation. You can’t get on an airplane, you can’t get in a taxi, you can’t read a book without black exploitation,” she said. .

“It was beautiful, incessant talking, challenging, soul-searching, defensiveness and then revelation, a beautiful flow of conversation and insight. And who will tell me all this? He was tireless and brilliant and always argued from a place of love.


AP National Writer Aaron Morrison contributed to this story from New York

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