“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
Candace Owens Refuses to Socially Isolate
COVID-19 should not be a partisan issue.
Candace Owens, a right wing activist well-known for speaking out against anything any democrat does, took to Twitter today to share that she is actively spreading COVID-19.
Owens' tirade was triggered by an experience in Whole Foods in which her and her husband were asked to put on medical masks or otherwise cover their mouths. Apparently, Owens was unaware of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser's April 8 mandate requiring customers to "wear a mask or mouth covering" when shopping. According to Owens, this polite request to do her part in stopping the spread of a deadly virus is an indication that the country is "spiraling into tyranny."
Owens said that she responded to the police officer by saying, "I don't have a mask. I haven't bought one."
She continued in the video, "I didn't race to buy toilet paper, I'm not a part of the corona crazies. I'm not a part of the tin foil hat, bunkering in my basement. I'm just living my life." The conservative activist went on to describe her and her husband being asked to hold their clothing up to their faces while shopping.
Owens' then went on to bemoan the coronavirus measures imposed in Washington DC, claiming there is "no empirical evidence to support the wearing of masks."
All of this would just be a matter of opinion (though one that seems rather insensitive to share at this time), if Owens didn't soon make it clear that mask-wearing isn't the only social distancing rule she is disobeying. She then began to tweet about the many times she had left the house recently for unnecessary reasons, each time risking spreading or contracting the deadly virus.
While Owens is correct that lockdown and social distancing is a nuisance, the selfishness of railing against restrictions put in place to save lives is truly astounding. Everyone agrees that it's a scary time in the United States, and we all know that it would be better if we could live our lives normally and run multiple unnecessary errands a day. Unfortunately, the reality is that we all have to work together to stay home and slow the spread of a deadly virus.
Of course, Owens isn't the first republican to treat social distancing as a nuisance or even as a democratic hoax. President Trump has implied that the Democrats are to blame for the flagging economy and even for the virus itself, all while threatening to reopen businesses well before experts advise. The fact that republicans have made COVID-19 a partisan issue only further points to the core ideology at the heart of the current administration: Selfishness.
Unfortunately, this is not some petty political issue we're talking about. If people like Owens continue to shirk social distancing rules, the cost will be measured in lives lost.
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