“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.
Plus celebrities react to Nigerian protests.
Young people across Nigeria have been pouring into the streets for the last two weeks to protest police brutality, specifically the controversial special police force known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Tension came to a head on Tuesday when armed forces fired on protestors in Lagos, the biggest city in Nigeria, who were out past the state-mandated curfew. According to AP News, "Police also fired tear gas at one point, and smoke could be seen billowing from several areas in the city's center. Two private TV stations were forced off the air at least temporarily as their offices were burned."
According to Amnesty International, police have killed at least ten peaceful protestors and injured dozens more since the protests started.
The Nigerian people's protestation against SARS is nothing new. The #EndSARS hashtag first went viral in Nigeria in 2017. It was spurred by citizens' reports of harassment, abuse, extortion, torture, and kidnapping at the hands of SARS officers. While Nigerian leaders promised to reform SARS in 2018, protestors maintain there has been little meaningful change and are now doubtful of renewed promises.
What Is SARS doing?
Indeed, according to a harrowing report from Amnesty International, there have been at least 82 cases of severe police brutality since SARS was supposedly reformed two years ago. The report reads: "Detainees in SARS custody have been subjected to a variety of methods of torture including hanging, mock execution, beating, punching and kicking, burning with cigarettes, waterboarding, near-asphyxiation with plastic bags, forcing detainees to assume stressful bodily positions and sexual violence." It continues, Findings from our research indicate that few cases are investigated and hardly any officers are brought to justice on account of torture and other ill-treatment."
SARS was created in the 1990s as a special force meant to handle serious crimes in Nigeria including kidnapping, robbery, and murder. But since its inception, it's morphed into an abusive arm of the government used to intimidate and even torture supposed "criminals." Protestors claim that officers are essentially never brought to justice even when victims manage to bring complaints against them. As CNN states, the force has "become notorious for alleged abuses committed with apparent impunity." There are also myriad reports of SARS officers financially extorting the people they detain.
Global Citizen specifies, "At the time it was created, Nigeria had a big security problem that citizens argue now no longer exists. Over the years, the squad — and by extension the Nigerian police — have been repeatedly caught on video carrying out beatings and shooting at unarmed citizens, often without any consequences."
Celebrities Raise Awareness
The #EndSARS campaign and the related protests in Nigeria have come to international attention, in large part thanks to a growing roster of celebrities who have vocalized their support for the protestors. These celebrities include the always unpredictable Kanye West, who tweeted Monday: "I stand with my Nigerian brothers and sisters to end police brutality, the government must answer to the peoples cries #EndPoliceBrutalityinNigeria"
Other celebrities include Trey Songz who tweeted, "After doing a little research I would like to speak out against what's going on in Nigeria right now. Their pleas to #EndSarsNow IS VERY REAL. I have so much love for my Nigerian fans and it's so hurtful to hear whats happening."
Star Wars actor John Boyega also chimed in on Twitter to say, "The youth in Nigeria deserve good leadership and guidance. This situation is tied to many other issues. Please lend your attention to this pressing problem! #EndSARSImmediately #EndSarsProtests #EndSARS #EndSARSProtest"
The youth in Nigeria deserve good leadership and guidance. This situation is tied to many other issues. Please lend… https://t.co/dvtVDmL7L3— John Boyega (@John Boyega) 1602240083.0
Former football star Rio Ferdinand sent his love to protestors via Twitter.
Another day of traumatic scenes in Nigeria 😫 Sending My Love To Everyone Affected 💚 🇳🇬 #EndSARS— Rio Ferdinand (@Rio Ferdinand) 1602415751.0
They have now allegedly disbanded SARS but so much more needs to be done!! 🚨 SARS is more than a “unit” its a minds… https://t.co/HOvj5z60QL— Burna Boy (@Burna Boy) 1602424716.0
How the Nigerian Government Is Responding to #EndSARS Protests
In response to the heightening protests, inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar Adamu, announced on October 11th that SARS would be disbanded. The next day, the President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, released a video in which he appeared to sympathize with protestors, he said that the disbanding of SARS was "only the first step" in more sweeping reform of the country's criminal justice system. He also assured the nation that, "We will also ensure that all those responsible for misconduct or wrongful acts are brought to justice."
The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reforms in order to ensure that… https://t.co/MmD7eH3JP2— Muhammadu Buhari (@Muhammadu Buhari) 1602506020.0
But Nigerians are rightfully suspicious of these promises, given that they were told very similar things two years ago only to experience increasingly violent, extortionist police tactics. Now, protestors are demanding more widespread reforms to end the extensive human rights violations allegedly carried out by all branches of Nigerian security forces as well as the rampant government corruption.
Given that protestors were shot with tear gas and allegedly fired on with live ammunition even after SARS was supposedly disbanded, it's clear that the government has many steps left to take before they can expect protestors to be satisfied.
How Can You Help?
1. Seek out accurate information
As with most things, there is an abundance of misinformation out there about the #EndSARS movement. Make sure you're reading reliable, fact-checked sources (we recommend unbiased resources like AP News and Reuters). Or even better, read first hand accounts of what's happening in Nigeria on this website created by activists to document accounts, videos, and photos of the abuse individuals have suffered at the hands of corrupt Nigerian law enforcement.
2. Spread the message
The majority of the organizing surrounding these protests is being done online, specifically through Twitter, so social media is a great tool to spread awareness and accurate information about the #EndSARS movement. As of Friday, October 16 there had been nearly 3.3 million tweets with 744,000 retweets of posts containing the #EndSARS hashtag.
Sharing this simple Tweet that outlines the protestors five demands is a great place to start.
This is our response to the IG. We are not relenting this time around. #EndPoliceBrutality #ReformThePolice… https://t.co/VUy8KOvUNQ— Bop Daddy (@Bop Daddy) 1602439160.0
3. Donate funds
The way you can likely be the most helpful to the young revolutionaries in Nigeria is through financial support. Never donate to a fund that you don't have substantial evidence is going directly to the protestors in question, and try to stick to funds that offer detailed reporting of how the funds are being used. For example, we recommend donating to the Feminist Coalition, which has raised more than 70 million Naira (about $180,000) for protestors in Nigeria.
Here are eight small ways to take action and help the world this week.
A lot of horrible things are happening in the world right now. Want to get involved and make a difference? Ready to see a better future come to pass?
It won't happen quickly, though small changes can create movements. Still, doing something is better than doing nothing. If you're looking for a way to take action online right now but need a place to start, here are a few suggestions of ways to do something meaningful this week.
Amnesty International has an amazingly well-designed volunteer portal that lets you choose whether you'd like to take 5 minutes, an hour, or longer to fight for human rights. There are so many opportunities on their website, from signing petitions (questionably effective) to actually becoming a grassroots advocate. While joining for the long-haul is always the best move, signing a bunch of petitions can't hurt, right?
If you're looking to donate some time while online, or want to offer your life skills to an impressionable youth, the Internet offers many ways to become a volunteer tutor, college application mentor, or Big Brother/Big Sister-type figure. You can volunteer to tutor low-income students on upchieve.org, help aspiring college students apply to school, or even join Big Brothers Big Sisters' virtual program.
Donate Your Graduation Gowns to COVID-19 First Responders
Somehow or other, many COVID-19 first responders are still without proper gear. Gowns4good.net allows you to give a healthcare worker the gown that's probably hanging in your closet and tormenting you with memories of a time when you were optimistic and free. Graduation gowns, with their long sleeves and zippered access, are efficient PPE gowns, so you'll be helping out one of our healthcare workers and upcycling while you're at it.
Send Letters and Postcards to Voters
We're approaching one of the most important elections of our lifetimes, and you're not alone if you feel you truly have to do something. You could join the organization Indivisible's groups across the country and write handwritten postcards to swing state voters begging them to get Big Orange the hell out—well, you'll be provided with kinder words to write that are proven to actually persuade voters to vote blue.
You can also register to vote and join a Get Out the Vote campaign. Not inspired by Joe Biden? Remember that a vote for president is also a vote for all the down-ballot candidates who run smaller but incredibly important offices. Check out local groups that fight for progressive champions to get involved in local politics.
Attend and Support Protests and Movements in Your Area
Though the media frenzy around Black Lives Matter has died down, protests are still going strong in cities across the world.
If you're able, attend in-person protests; or, if you're looking for other ways to support, there are still many ways to support the mass movement for justice, from calling your reps to attending virtual events. Just research the events happening in your area and be aware of what's going on.
In NYC the vitriol has shifted slightly from a sole focus on the police towards anger at all the city's billionaires, who keep getting richer while the city suffers. Check out Housing Justice for All, or stay abreast of the momentum in your area.
Public movements and public pressure works. So keep up the pressure.
In the middle of a devastating pandemic, when many undocumented people weren't even receiving any government benefits at all and couldn't sign up for aid programs, ICE is still at it, evicting people, tearing families apart, caging children, and being horrible.
If you want a specific event to attend: DSA is hosting a phone zap for Free Them All, an organization that demands incarcerated immigrants be released, on Friday at noon.
You could also watch this video, narrated by Fiona Apple, about how to document an ICE arrest.
Learn About Harm Reduction and Naxolone/Narcan
America is still in the midst of an opioid crisis, and during COVID-19, U.S. drug overdoses have reached record highs.
Harm reduction is one way to help people struggling with drug abuse—and you'd be surprised at how many people are. (If you're struggling, you're not alone). If you want to help, you could learn about responding to an overdose and you can start carrying Naxolone or Narcan, drugs that counter the toxic effects of opioids. Look up your local harm reduction group, learn more here, sign up for a training here, and of course, you can always donate.
August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day, so this month is also a great time to educate yourself on prevention and to share information with others.
It's also always a good time to learn about alternatives to punishment, such as harm reduction and restorative justice. These strategies can be practiced on micro-levels (i.e. "calling in" instead of "calling out") or on the scale of the entire criminal justice system.
Work on Yourself
Change starts internally, and time spent working on your internal world is never time wasted. Just imagine how different movements and governments would be if all leaders had done internal work and had healed themselves before they tried to lead the world.
Healing your own wounds can be one of the most helpful things you can do in the long term. Justice movements and campaigns often fail in the wide scheme of things because they get destroyed by egos or corruption or savior complexes or poor communication.
But personal healing can be the foundation of genuine connection and community-building, which is where real change begins. Try therapy, find God, check in with your friends, take a day off; you and everyone you know deserves it.
It's the sad truth of capitalism: Money sometimes goes further than everything else. So if you're able, keep on donating—this list will show you how to make sure your donations reach the most marginalized. You could also set a goal for an amount you'd like to donate, such as 10% of your total income.
Here are five places to donate to this week:
Abundant Beginnings educates children about environmentalism, community, and liberation. It's a Black-led organization that invests in raising future activists and compassionate people.
The Center for Popular Democracy supports progressive causes and frontline communities.
Project South is a movement dedicated to fighting social, economic, and political problems in the American South.
The Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana is donating to relief efforts at the site of Hurricane Laura.
The Climate Emergency Fund supports youth climate activists in their work to stop climate change on a global scale.