The recent passing of Harry Belafonte leaves a gaping hole in the heart of the world. There are many words we use today to describe certain people who are exceptional, words like hero, saint, icon, or goat (greatest of all time). The word I use to describe Mr. Belafonte is “legend.” He is a man who achieved extraordinary success as an actor, singer, activist, and humanitarian.
He will be remembered and never forgotten for his accomplishments of winning a Tony award for his starring role in John Murray Anderson’s, “Almanac,” and being the first Black performer to win an Emmy for the TV special, “Tonight with Harry Belafonte.”
His album “Calypso” made him the first solo performer to officially be certified for selling a million albums. But his legend status was cemented for his impact on society and the civil rights movement.
He was a man who devoted and dedicated his life to building bridges and breaking down barriers. He took a stand when so many other prominent celebrities took a seat. He became a symbol of how one person can make a difference in the world through philanthropy, activism, and other forms of social and political engagement.
Mr. Belafonte was one of the central figures in the historic March on Washington in 1963 when Martin Luther King Jr., delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech. Most people do not know that it was Mr. Belafonte who coordinated Nelson Mandela’s first visit to the United States after being released from prison. He also was the originator and initiator of the “We Are the World” recording for famine relief in Africa.
Over two decades ago, I had the honor and privilege to not only meet Mr. Belafonte, but I was hired by him and Attorney Connie Rice to help with the organization and management of his dream event, the “Urban Peace Awards.” The mission of the Urban Peace Awards was to end violence, restore community, and reclaim responsibility. Our logo was the Sankofa bird. Many of us came together to really try and make a difference by strategizing and bringing the community, corporate and law enforcement together to facilitate peace.
Some of the wonderful people I was able to work with included Mr. Belafonte’s daughter, Gina, Attorney Connie Rice, Ms. Shabazz, Bo Taylor, and Gary Dourdan. Along the journey, we also were able to go the prison system and team up with Jim Brown’s Amer-I-Can Foundation for Social Change. Our corporate sponsor was Hyundai Motor America, and Sheriff Baca got on board to help to try and facilitate change.
Only Mr. Belafonte could bring such a diverse group of individuals and organizations together. Rarely does one person have a combination of talent, hard work, innovation, impact, influence, moral compass and social conscience. Mr. Belafonte left a lasting legacy that will continue to inspire and shape the world for generations to come.
On a personal note, Mr. Belafonte thank you for pausing for just a moment 20 years ago to celebrate my birthday with me, sharing a group meal, presenting me with a signed T-shirt, and singing happy birthday to me. “Day-O,” daylight come and me want to go home. You are home now. Rest in Power and Peace.
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Visit www.WendyGladney.com and www.forgivingforliving.org to learn more. Wendy is a life strategist, coach, consultant, author, and speaker.