“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.
Giving Tuesday During COVID-19: The Most Impactful Ways to Give
There are plenty of ways to donate without sending finances.
Giving Tuesday is already a well-loved tradition for many, and this week (May 5th) is a global day of giving tailored to the scariness of the current moment.
Of course, just staying home is probably the most important thing any of us can do right now at this time, but many people are responding to an urgent call to do something more, to connect and to give. Millions of people have already given a great deal of their time and energy during COVID-19, many donating their stimulus checks, participating in mutual aid networks, fighting on the frontlines and more. This day is just another excuse to do so in whatever capacity you can.
"Giving Tuesday is always, since the beginning of it, really about human connection and strengthening communities, and that is exactly what's needed now, when there's fear and uncertainty and polarizing forces, and those things are threatening social as well as economic collapse, in addition to all the health uncertainty and fear," says Asha Curran, CEO of the Giving Tuesday movement. "It's not a fundraiser," she says. "It's a global generosity movement."
With millions of Americans out of work or dealing with financial insecurity, giving financially may not be possible. According to one survey, 42% of Americans questioned said they were having trouble paying for basic expenses like mortgage, rent, or groceries.
There are plenty of ways to donate without sending finances. The Giving Tuesday website and sites like Daily Generosity Alerts will alert you to small ways to give back. You can also text #GivingTuesday to 33777, or look into joining your local mutual aid network or using your own strengths to contribute to a social movement.
Deciding what to donate and how to give is a personal and political choice, and you don't have to donate exclusively to COVID-19-related funds. It's important to look to the people that aren't receiving what little support the government is providing. (New Sanctuary Coalition, the Partnership for Native Americans, and the Bail Project are all good options in that respect; the ACLU is also always fighting for justice). Food banks that support the most vulnerable are also valuable places to give.
It's also important to consider issues that existed before COVID-19 but that have only been exacerbated by the crisis. "The focus should be on helping the world's poorest people, not just people in the US; if you want to give in the US, you should give to effective, direct charities; if you want to maximize your impact, donating to prevent the next pandemic might be your best bet; and don't forget that the problems that plagued us before coronavirus still plague us now, and that other, non-Covid-19 charities need support, too," argues Dylan Matthews for Vox.
Plus, of course, charities often fail to endure or enact substantial change, particularly when they don't work directly with the communities they're trying to give to. Therefore, long-term community engagement is particularly important nowadays. Also, actions like voting and engaging in larger-scale campaigns to shift larger superstructures of oppression can also be very powerful. Whatever you do, make sure you're taking care of yourself too, because change starts within.