“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.
In defense of mothers who work full time, from one CFO's daughter
One woman's story of a mother who worked full-time and how it affected her
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, slightly less than half of all married households have two working parents. I am in that 47 percent of kids who grew up with a mother and father who worked full-time; they worked throughout my childhood and well into my adult years. (Despite their current empty-nester status, my parents still work full-time, with dreams of retirement somewhere over the 401(k) Rainbow.) Many of my friends, on the other hand, grew up with stay-at-home moms, self-proclaimed homemakers or housewives, who between their child's violin practice, doing carpool and running the booster club, spent plenty of quality time with their children.
Millennial women have a unique to-work-or-not-to-work dilemma
Here's my theory: Millennial women have a unique to-work-or-not-to-work dilemma. Half of us were raised by women who did not work, yet as young women, we are tasked with closing that pesky gender gap by working and climbing the corporate ladder.
The point of this piece is not that all women should want to be working moms, or that being a stay-at-home mom is bad. While I am not a mother, I have spent enough time babysitting whiny kids and barfing babies to believe it when people say being a mom is a full-time job. My point in discussing the benefits of being raised by a working mom, and the conclusions I drew from the experience, is solely this: Employed moms should be relieved of working-mom guilt, and future stay-at-home moms should not face ridicule for not "leaning in" far enough.
The most important thing I learned about having a mom who worked full-time is that moms are individuals. Despite the simplicity of that statement, it was an ah-ha moment for me to learn.
My mom, Alexandra "Alie" Pruner, considers herself first and foremost a mother, which makes sense given that she carried me inside her for nine months and has spent enough money on my education to fund a small country. Growing up with a working mom made me realize, though, that in addition to being a parent, my mom is also a spouse, a co-worker, a Democrat, a mentor, a daughter, a feminist, a shameless lover of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson movies and many other things. My mom spent an entire lifetime in many of those roles long before my brother and I came along; she chose to live those roles because it made her happy.
By working full-time, my mom was a better mother to me. She was happier as an individual, thus making her a more compassionate, aware and present
Not everybody is meant to be a working mom, but for my mother, work is a necessity. She was forced to be independent at a very young age, and making strides in the corporate world makes her happy. She works on the weekends, has a fifth appendage — also known as her BlackBerry — and has probably led a board meeting via conference call during most of our family vacations. She is a pioneer for women in her industry, and much like myself, although on a much grander scale, she seeks to relieve working moms of the guilt they experience for leaving their kids at home.
By working full-time, my mom was a better mother to me. She was happier as an individual, thus making her a more compassionate, aware and present mother when she got home from work. She may not have been the person who picked me up from school or cooked us dinner every night — thank goodness for that, by the way, because she is a horrible cook — but she was a better mom for making herself a happy individual even when it made her feel guilty. I love her even more for having the courage to work full-time during an era, when women were encouraged to be wives or mothers first — and people second.
I hope our generation affords women the right to choose what type of lifestyle is best for them as individuals, and frees them from any guilt or ridicule for making their choice. Closing the gender gap and modern feminism comes down to the perception and treatment of women and their decisions. It is about relieving working moms, like mine, from feeling shame, and preventing future moms from feeling that being a stay-at-home mom is not enough.
I am not upset that my mom missed a few soccer games. I am proud she knew that to be the best mother possible, she had to be the best version of herself as an individual first. I hope she feels she can wear the titles CFO and mom with equal pride, because the way she has inspired me, she definitely should.
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