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Ringing of the Knell: Harry Belafonte

So it has come to be that another of our great icons has returned to the Spirit World.


March 1, 1927-April 25, 2023


Born in Harlem, New York the first-generation Jamaican American spent much of his early years in his ancestors' Caribbean. Being of a working-class family he embraced the importance of education and hard work, but due to a learning disability left secondary school for employment in odd jobs which did little to elevate him above poverty. As many young Caribbean-American men, Mr. Belafonte joined the United States Navy during World War II, perhaps in hopes of sailing the ocean blue towards adventure or, at least, gaining recognition and equal acceptance for his patriotism and valor in a nation hellbent on offering the opposite to those of his ilk. As it was, he found himself stationed just over the river in New Jersey as a loader of bombs and other ammunition onto ships bound for a deadly destination. His time in service did nothing for his lot in life so after being discharged and returned to civilian life, he also returned to menial employment.


While poor, Mr. Belafonte loved the arts, and in seeing Black New York actors hone their crafts onstage decided he could do the same. He took acting lessons but inadvertently first became a very successful calypso singer in the States and abroad- much to my own Bahamian, West Indies family's glee. He became known not only for his impeccable singing and acting skills, but his class, charm, intellect, handsomeness, and most important of all, his activism. Mr. Belafonte used his celebrity in staunch support of human rights the world over, thumbing his nose at racial barriers, and standing up against oppression however he could do so. During an interview he once stated, "My activism really started the day of my birth," and added "What attracted me to the arts was the fact that I saw theater as a social force, as a political force..."


Surely, many of us will honor our elder by Googling photographs of him, reading about his triumphs, and maybe even listening to his songs or watching some of his screen work. Just keep in mind: Harry Belafonte was primarily an activist- heavy on the act. It is not enough to simply remember him from time to time whenever it is fun or convenient. It is not enough to talk about him or share memes, GIFs, or trimmed interviews of him speaking truth to power. In order to keep Father Belafonte alive and his legacy long-lasting we must become him. We must stand, march, speak, fight as he did. Otherwise... what was it all for?


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