Wednesday, May 8

Farewell to a beloved elder: Activists mirror on Harry Belafonte

NEW YORK — Carmen Berkley, a strategist with a Seattle-based basis advocating fairness and racial justice, remembers assembly Harry Belafonte a decade in the past when she was a youth activist.

She’d gone to Florida to attend a sit-in protest that different younger Black activists had staged on the Capitol in Tallahassee over the dying of Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager fatally shot in 2012 by a resident of a gated neighborhood who determined Martin regarded suspicious. Berkley recollects “this magical moment” when Belafonte confirmed as much as encourage the Capitol demonstrators.

“He gave us hope. He reminded us that we are important, that we are powerful and we deserved freedom and Justice in our lifetimes,” mentioned Berkley, vice chairman of technique and influence at Inatai Foundation. “There is no one like Mr. B,” she added. “Humble and kind, generous and focused, and a true advocate for artists, advocates and all of the communities who want to get free.”

Belafonte, who died Tuesday at age 96, was an in depth pal and ally of the Rev. Martin Luther King and stepped again from a profitable and path-breaking profession in music and performing to dedicate himself to the Civil Rights Movement of the Fifties and Nineteen Sixties. But his legacy prolonged properly past his generational friends. Over the previous half century, for full-time activists and for artists and celebrities anxious to do greater than entertain, Belafonte has endured as a task mannequin, mentor and occasional scold, a village elder devoted to advising younger folks on find out how to advocate for his or her rights and to reminding those that didn’t meet their potential to vary minds.

“So many people have stepped into a legacy he helped create,” mentioned David J. Johns, government director of the National Black Justice Coalition, which has a mission to “end racism, homophobia, and LGBTQ/SGL bias and stigma.” Shortly earlier than the information broke that Belafonte had died, Johns had been on a panel in Miami, Florida, discussing equality and the preservation of democracy.

“I had been talking about the importance of being courageous and disruptive in the spirit of dream keepers like Bayard Rustin, James Baldwin and Harry Belafonte,” he mentioned.

The tributes Belafonte acquired after his dying confirmed his singular stature: Praise from President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama, whom Belafonte had criticized at occasions for not doing sufficient 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 ‘I.’ That stuck with me. If there is one lesson we can learn from him it is ‘what can I do to help mankind?’”

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

“He’d be the first to throw his support behind young people rising up, and never tried to pacify the rage or anger or disappointment we were feeling,” Brown mentioned. “He never preached at us. He, instead, affirmed the work we were doing, opened his doors, cleared space for us and always listened.”

As a motion veteran, he led by instance, Brown added.

“I witnessed this icon, this giant, shift in his own political development and thinking,” she mentioned. “It taught me you’re never too old, or too wise, to learn and grow.”

Belafonte mentored Danny Glover, Common, Usher and plenty of different public figures, and maintained shut alliances even with these he typically argued. Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, remembered the evolution of Belafonte’s relationship along with her household. He had questioned John F. Kennedy’s consciousness of racism and was overtly skeptical of her father after JFK appointed him his lawyer normal, remembering him as having served on the workers of the intense anti-Communist Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

“Sometimes they had their differences, but they came to respect and to deeply love each other,” Kennedy says. “They were not afraid to challenge each other and be truthful with another.”

Kerry Kennedy is the president of the nonprofit group Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Belafonte was a board member, engaged proper up till his dying with the middle’s actions. Asked if she ever mentioned with Belafonte his causes for changing into an activist, she laughed and mentioned you couldn’t actually have a dialog about lunch with out Belafonte turning the topic “right back to civil rights and social justice.”

Her disagreements with Belafonte have been typically instructional, for each of them. She remembered him alleging that her grandfather, the businessman, investor and authorities official Joseph P. Kennedy, had earned his fortune via the exploitation of Black folks. Kennedy advised him that he was mistaken, that he had by no means owned slaves or profited off slave labor.

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

“It was beautiful, the constant talking, challenging, soul searching, defensiveness, and then revelation, a beautiful flow of conversation and insight. And who else is going to say all of this to me? He was relentless and fabulous and always argued from a place of love.”


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

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