Celebrating Greatness of Harry Belafonte
Daylight come and me wan' go home. These words were sung all over America in 1957 by people who imitated the calypso-tinged intonations of the singer. But most of the imitators of the Caribbean-inspired crooner did not know what daylight was for the Harlem-born singer whose parents hailed from the islands of Jamaica and Martinique
Illumination for Harry Belafonte meant more than the klieg lights of film and television studios, more than spotlights that reflected his tight-fitting clothes that inspired many ladies' fantasies. Belafonte had an ever widening, ever deepening commitment and concern for the least of his brethren.
His constituency was the deprived and the dispossessed of the world. His passion drove him to organize sitins and Freedom Rides with Dr. Martin Luther King as well as provide seed money for the beginning of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Belafonte seeks to share with his fellow men and women of the globe a quiet light that in the words of Trinidadian poet Derek Walcott is: "the light that you will see on a hill in yellow Octoberâ€¦..love made seasonlessâ€¦above all change, betrayals of falling suns â€¦like the pause between dusk and darkness, between fury and peaceâ€¦
Although the entertainment industry discovered he had significant acting talent-he turned in a bravura performance in Carmen Jones in 1954, playing opposite Dorothy Dandridge--he has turned down many scripts.
One of the most noteworthy was Lilies of the Field-the film and the lead role which gave Sidney Poitier his Oscar. Harry simply could not accept the Black protagonist appearing in a field of lilies with no history or passions of his own; a man with no ambition but to help some white refugee nuns. The character had to have a home.
In 1985 he dreamed and completed the "We are the World" recording and concert tour which raised a hundred million dollars for famine relief in Ethiopia.
He continues to oppose American foreign policies which encourage war in any forms and strives for the eradication of diseases in third world countries.
His years in the crucible of change netted him the 2004 Human Rights Award from the humanitarian group Global Exchange last month.
He has worked for the United Nations for seventeen years in humanitarian efforts.Let's reflect on this singer's words spoken when he received this award for mercy among mankind: "We in the freedom struggle have discovered it's not a part time job.
It certainly cannot be treated as a hobby. Unfortunately, there are many in our nation who do just that. They mean well. They believe in many of the great American ideals.
They also choose not to see, hear, taste or to believe that we can perpetuate and involve ourselves as a nation in the kind of villainy that is so identified in so many parts of the world.
"Paul Robeson who was my mentor who influenced me greatly once said get them to the people, get them to sing your songs and they will want to know who you areâ€¦.
All of the songs that were sung from the tongues of thers, all the songs that were sung by those who were trapped in the abyss of poverty who had the courage to extricate
themselves from their oppression, all these forces in the world have inspired me to put my life in the service of those who deserve this award.
I am just an instrument in which they speak. "We find ourselves at this moment in a place that is very unfamiliar to me. It is not the oppression that's alien to me. It is not racism or sexism or poverty.
All that has been a constant. I was born into much of that. Poverty was my mother's midwife. She brought up her children in poverty. But she taught us a sense of purpose. She taught us how to be valiant in the face of oppression. â€¦She directed me to places that eventually came to consume me in positive and rewarding ways.
"To know Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. and Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker, to have been arrested with so many who were great and courageous people who have been shot at and beaten as others have been so exposed is worth the price, is worth the journey, is worth getting them to hear the songs and to follow the melody and to sing the lyrics of life.
That's what it's all about. "I had thought by this time in my life I would be someplace on a beach in the Caribbean sipping on a rum, reflecting on the good deeds that have transpired in my lifetime. I find no such luxury has afforded itself to me.
I cannot sit on a beach and hear the voices of many who do not have such opportunity. "I am singing the songs of freedom everywhere I go. The people I choose to sing these songs to are remarkable human beings. Their songs are constant. I recently took a group of men and women to Africa.
To visit with the Ethiopian farmers to take a look at what was happening with them and to try to understand that they sing the same songs we do and in many ways more passionately. Their songs are
Their needs are great. "I have come to understand that to care for freedom to tender for it is a never-ending job. Democracy is very fragile. If we do not tender to it, care for it, it will disappear. Those who are the villains among us do their works twenty-four hours a day.
They are constant in their need to oppress, in their need to cheat, in their need to steal, in their need to rob us of our dignity.
"I am of the belief that if we stay the course, if we are consistent in our defense of democracy, if we refuse to negotiate with the enemy we will prevail." Harry has daylight coming for all of us. He is home for us.