Born in Harlem and raised in Jamaica, Harry Belafonte is legend for his artistic work as a singer, stage and screen actor, and producer. His RCA album “Calypso” made him the first in history to sell more than one million LPs, his first Broadway appearance in “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac” won him the Tony Award, and as the first black producer in television, he won an Emmy for his CBS production of “An Evening with Belafonte.” In cinema, “Carmen Jones” took top critical honors and attracted Oscar nominations. But he is equally known for his work for equality, peace and justice. A close friend of both Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, he was prominent in the struggle against apartheid and the freeing of Mandela from prison. He has served as the cultural advisor for the Peace Corps, and was named the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and set in motion the wheels for “We Are the World.” He has received numerous awards, including the Kennedy Center Honors for excellence in the performing arts, the 1994 presidential National Medal of Arts, and those from a wide variety of cultural and religious groups. He holds honorary degrees from numerous colleges and universities.
Addressing a packed conference room at the Kellogg Center, the actor-singer-activist slammed the American culture of greed and accused colleges and universities of turning their backs on the humanities.
“Once [colleges] gave us the gift of genius, understanding, analysis,” he said. “Now the curriculum is totally empty. Much of what (students) talk about is how to prepare themselves for the gift of money.”
The humanities, Belafonte said, have paid a “terrible price.”
“We do not see the lust among students to answer the big questions,” he said. “What is love? What is truth? We assume the good Earth is something we can rape and exploit.”
“We are numb to our deeper humanity,” he said. “Why must power suffocate us so easily?”
Decrying a 21st-century vacuum of “courage and leadership,” he invoked giants of the 20th century, including his close friend Martin Luther King, Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois and Franklin Roosevelt, as leaders who advanced human rights and economic equality. He cited federal programs such as Social Security and the Works Progress Administration and laws like the Voting Rights Act.
“Somewhere along the line, all that disappeared,” he said. “Now we´re just about nothing.”
For the full article, see Lawrence Cosentino, “Now we´re about nothing´; Harry Belafonte brings down the hammer in passionate MSU lecture”, Lansing City Pulse, February 18, 2015.