Another big icon of entertainment and social activism has found his way to Bed-Stuy!
Tuesday morning, Harry Belafonte, dubbed the "King of Calypso," and a world-renowned advocate for civil rights and humanitarian causes, shared with the students of the Brooklyn Academy of Global Finance his lifetime experience working to better the world around him.
The multi-faceted actor, singer and activist just turned 86 a few days ago, and yet still found time to share a few jewels of inspiration with about 50 eleventh- and twelfth-graders— students young enough to be his great-grandchildren.
Prior to Belafonte’s arrival, the students watched “Sing Your Song,” a film detailing Belafonte’s life, work and achievements, produced by his daughter Gina Belafonte, who accompanied the senior Belafonte to the high school.
“I look back at my life and compare it to what’s going on today, and it’s amazing how I have so much to learn,” Belafonte reflected. “It’s very different, your set of circumstances... your experiences, things that have happened to you in your lifetime.
“My generation was more socially and politically engaged, because the things that bothered us were more in our face. Just walking down the street, we saw the eyes of doubt,” he said.
“We just weren’t welcomed in many places. It just wasn’t our social station to be born. But it gave us a set of objectives and criteria to change. We had greater ambitions and dreams because of the immediate obstacles that were put in our way.
“As individuals that came from the struggle and had things to say as artists, we had to learn all of that and carve all of that for ourselves. Having said that, why isn’t there more opportunity for you?
The students sat quiet, engaged in his every word. Belafonte spoke to them in whispered tones, as an elder who has walked in their shoes. Yet he pressed for them to seek a way out by allowing themselves to be open to opportunities, particularly in places they might be unaccustomed to looking.
“I think therein lies the mystery of your time,” said Belafonte, with pause. “Now, what do you do about it? How important is it, and how pressing do you feel about making it work in a way that realizes your goals and your objectives? That will be up to you.”
The room crackled with a quiet excitement of recognizing the rareness of such opportunity to hear a living icon share candidly his miles of experience and sincere belief in the reconciliation of humanity.
“What do you believe is your biggest accomplishment in life?” asked one student during the question-and-answer portion.
Belafonte answered, “For me to be sitting here in a classroom with you young people who are facing social circumstances such as what we’re experiencing in America today, and the fact that you have put this forum together and have faith in what I have to say and the will to listen, is an enormous reward.”