Artist and social activist Harry Belafonte shared provocative, yet inspiring, statements about himself, his history and his views on present political situations and racial problems to approximately 700 people Tuesday night at the Marshall Student Center Ballroom.
As an opening statement, Belafonte said he had always been an activist. From birth, he was fascinated by his mother’s dignity and courage when dealing with hardships in America.
“She set the pace,” Belafonte said. “And I followed in her steps.”
Belafonte, 90, said his mother impacted his choices by saying that since she let him see the people of Jamaica, the country where she’d been born and raised, he began to understand more about the black community in the U.S.
“Here in America, there is a rage and an anger, that is, for me, quite overwhelming,” Belafonte said.
He then said that since he stopped singing he’s spent most of his time in the criminal justice system listening to the voices of the hundreds of thousands of men and some women who do not deserve to be incarcerated.
“There is an aspect to the American system who does not mostly look kindly to people of color,” Belafonte said.
He reflected upon other questions he’s answered in past interviews about his motives for being an activist.
“The motive is very simple: poverty,” Belafonte said. “Poor people have a way of surviving that is really quite a tribute to the dimensions of human behavior.”
Giving the audience an inner perspective on his choices in life, Belafonte acknowledged major influencers with a pensive smile. Some of whom were Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, Eleanor Roosevelt and Lester Young, who encouraged him to sing.
“I am by all measure, one of the world’s finest actors,” Belafonte said. “It’s rested in the fact I’ve convinced you I’m a singer.”
Belafonte said that after he created a large platform, he became aware of the unusual power a performing artist has.
“My question was ‘what do you do with that power?’” Belafonte said. “Whenever I find injustice, I find people in need, I respond to the best of my ability.”
He explained that after he gained his following, MLK invited him to his speech at the Baptist Church. Belafonte joked that MLK had been meant to talk for 20 minutes, but they left five hours later.
“Almost every moment spent with Dr. King was spent with possibility,” Belafonte said. “In him, I saw a path.”
Belafonte continued, stating his thoughts about the current political status and the populace.
“We’ve taken a turn that’s quite devastating,” Belafonte said. “The last thing I could’ve ever imagined was that with all the sacrifice, all the pain and all the anguish that he went through to shape the character of this country would all amount to being represented by Donald Trump.”
He offered very strong words regarding Trump and called for a rebellion.
“I was curious that America should’ve come to this,” Belafonte said. “It was we who put him in office. Where’s black America? Where is its voice? The rebellion to this racist who sits at the top of the heap thinking he’s harmless and shaped the thinking of our children?”
Expanding on his thoughts on the current racial tensions, Belafonte commented on the constantly diminishing marks left by past civil rights activists.
“Here in America, I could never believe that Malcom X, Dr. King and Ella Baker existed,” Belafonte said.
Belafonte said a voice, like MLK’s, is necessary now more than ever.
“We blinked and I think we have to get back to business,” Belafonte said. “One could almost say we’re lost without oppression. Take away oppression and we become subhuman. There is something wrong with that equation.”