As a young girl growing up, I have fond memories of Harry Belafonte being in a few movies and some of his calypso songs. When he came on to the scene, so to speak, there were very few African Americans in the entertainment industry. When most people heard about black entertainers, they were in either small African Negro Theatre of the south but very few were allowed to have roles or perform on American television. At that time, shows like the Ed Sullivan Show and Lawrence Welk needed to be careful on who that book to spare the wrath of not only the station sponsors as well as the general public.
It didn’t take long for his charismatic voice and acting style to take notice in the main stream of American culture but more importantly, in the African American community as an entity that wasn’t playing a shadow character or a dumb subordinate. Most often African American performers were better known and limited to their own small theatre circuits and clubs .Harry, along with a handful of others including Martin Luther King, Jr.; Sammy Davis Jr.; Lena Horn; Sydney Pointier; Nat King Cole; and others showed that, we as people, to be talented and have the capacity to excel with our skills beyond what color our skin is. His acting talents later propelled him into his own production company allowing him to pass forward not only his talents but those of up and coming talents of Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor.
We are familiar with his introduction of the calypso music into the American musical mainstream but he was a strong humanitarian of equal rights. Few knew that he was a strong spokesman and proponent of the human rights movement both here and abroad. In a recent interview for his upcoming special that aired on HBO last October, Harry was critical on the policies and actions of President Obama, stating that his reactions went to the “loudest shouting voices” instead of concentrating on the more critical issues that face the nation. His way of “persuading his audience” to the human issues and concerns at hand without preaching has not only brought praise from everyone across main stream America as well as those in the entertainment industry and political circles alike. His previous humanitarian efforts have ranged from the early civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr. to being goodwill ambassador to UNICEF, active spokesman to Apartheid in South Africa, drought and blight issues in much of West Africa. You can say that he was doing “passing forward concept” before it was even cool.
One thing I wasn’t aware of was that Harry has dyslexia, which is a disorder on which people have problems in deciphering words in written text. They say that sometimes, when there is a deficit in one area, the person may become more in tune to the human environment around them. Either way, we can always use more people like him, presenting the positive light of people, regardless of race and how we all can “pass forward” that everyone matters.