Can We Get a Belafonte?

           Not too long ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit the Dusable Museum of African American history in Chicago. The museum had exhibits covering ancient African kingdoms, the history of blacks in the armed forces, the progression of gospel music, and more. In one exhibit there was a poster that I walked by and quickly did a double take. It was a promotional poster for an event that had a star-studded cast with the likes of Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Dick Gregory, and Mahalia Jackson. What was the event you ask? It was a fundraiser promoted by none other than Martin Luther King Jr. (the keynote speaker for the night) and the SCLC to raise funds for civil rights work in Chicago.

            I was so impressed with that lineup as it consisted of some of the top stars at that time. Seeing it also reminded me of some of the works of MLK I read where he spoke highly of Harry Belafonte and his support in the civil rights movement. Belafonte would become a key resource to assist king financially and visibly promoted his endeavors. I thought to myself about how awesome it was to have celebrities use their platforms for that movement. They could have easily sat back in their mansions and played the safe card to not hurt their images in the entertainment industry. They could have took the “safe negro” approach but instead they got their hands dirty by joining their people in the struggle. They owned it, and used the influence they had to assist in making a difference.

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Harry Belafonte greets Martin Luther King Jr. (right) at a 1965 civil-rights march in Montgomery, Alabama.

Fast forward some 50 years later and where are our celebrities? Now I’m not saying that our rich and famous do not give to charities and meaningful causes. I’m not claiming to have investigated all of their financial statements.  I also know of some who step to the forefront as advocates for different issues, but something still seems to be missing. It just doesn’t seem to compare to that poster I saw that was just a snippet of the work done by those famous men and women. In a day and age where celebrities are placed on pedestals probably more so than any other time period, I don’t see the use of platforms for the advancement of our people.

In a culture where the masses hang on the every word of the famous and follow their every move, I don’t see our celebrities taking advantage of this fact to speak to the problems that plague us. In a society where the famous can be so easily accessible through social media, it just seems that more of what is said and done hurts us rather than helps us. Where are the actors like Poitier or Belafonte? The entertainers like Mahalia Jackson or Dick Gregory? Where are the music artists like the James Browns or Marvin Gayes who will write anthems to inspire our generation? Where are the athletes like the Jim Browns or Muhammad Alis who will use their platforms to stand for what is right and be vocal about injustice in this country and the world? To whom much is given, much is required. Our celebrities have been given so much influence today that it’s mind-boggling! I pray they will use it for good.

~Stephen J. Taylor

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