“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.
A foundation of democracy and social justice, public libraries are one of the last completely free social spaces in the US—but with heavy funding cuts and shutdowns, they risk closing indefinitely.
Did you know that there are more public libraries in the United States than there are Starbucks cafes?
Public libraries have long been the pillar of communities. A foundation of democracy and social justice, libraries provide endless amounts of information to the masses.
Despite popular beliefs through the last decade, the public library is not a dying establishment. Instead, they are adapting and evolving to meet community needs. Public libraries across the US offer over 391 million ebooks at an expansion rate of 30% a year. They have also seen vast increases in program offerings. And in light of the need to adapt to a new world amidst the upsets of 2020, libraries are constantly formulating important new ways to meet people's needs.
Yet studies show that the number of people visiting public libraries has slowly but surely decreased over the past few years. Maybe this is because of large cuts in funding to public libraries—or maybe this is how governments are justifying such heavy cuts in funding.
Either way, among shutdowns and widespread economic turmoil, public libraries remain a vital part of society, and here's why:
1. Libraries create a sense of community
Research shows that people engaged with their local libraries tend to feel more connected to their community as a whole. Libraries have long been considered safe havens—free and resourceful meeting places for all community members.
2. Libraries can save you money
Did you know that many college textbooks can be rented out and renewed throughout college courses? Not only can you save money on renting books, but libraries also can save you money on movies, magazines, and newspapers. Many libraries are adapting other free rentals such as tools and musical instruments, and others offer free classes ranging from toddler and child activities to personal development classes.
Most libraries offer free accounting services as well. During tax season, check to see if your library offers free tax filing with an accountant. In addition, libraries in urban settings often offer reduced admission prices to local museums.
Still curious about how much you can save by using library services? This unique tool was created to help you estimate how much money you could save annually by using services from a public library.
3. Libraries benefit children
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Toddler storytime is a great first class to introduce little ones to the library and foster a lifelong love for reading. Early childhood literacy is important, and the earlier a child has access to public libraries, the more efficient and life long the access will be, according to the International Federation of Library Association.
Makerspaces, found in most libraries, engage children in the process of building and creating things with real tools and objects. Classes offer opportunities to learn in a wide array of subjects, including popular STEM topics. Libraries also provide a safe environment for kids to play, learn, and socialize after school.
Threats to Public Libraries
The Public Library Association (PLA) has implemented an extensive response plan to aid in public libraries' recoveries amidst the pandemic. Libraries are expanding online resources available to the public through online courses and materials available to electronically rent.
The Library Stabilization Fund Act, proposed in Congress this past July, would establish $2 billion in funding for public libraries. These funds would help to save over 370,000 library jobs, bolster high-speed internet access, provide resources for remote learning in education, and much more.
For the fourth consecutive year, the ALA reports that the White House has eliminated the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) from the FY21 federal budget. Likewise, public library funding is being cut at the state level. In New York State, funding is at the same levels as two decades ago. My own city's public library has faced talks of closure and has seen huge cuts, which in turn caused New York State to remove the library's status as an NYS central library.
How You Can Help
Check for your state library association here and find specifics on what you can do in your state, including information and templates you can use to contact elected officials.
Use this ALA form to send a message to urge congress to support current funding bills.