“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.
SPEAKERS CORNER - Tech Founders Talking
A series by tech entrepreneurs, anonymous… or not
Zoom is you?
When Liberty Project asked me to write this post, I was reluctant. Call it fatigue, call it Irish humility, or false humility… an unreliable distinction. But I didn’t really want to explain myself to the world wide web (as if anyone would care…).
That damned interweb with all of its likes and tweets and blocks and gaslighting. I thought I’d surfed the whole thing, but seems like last night while the rest of us were sleeping they put up more stuff… F**g tech… Sometimes I question my vocation as a tech entrepreneur, given some of the leaking carcinogens the West World web has unleashed on the reality my children and theirs will inherit.
But I digress…. The assignment was clear: answer one simple question in under 1000 words.
The question is:
Why are you betting on Ireland as the future talent pool for your tech company?
I agreed to write this post, so long as I could frame it as a thoughtful account of what’s really going through my head — which has as much to do with metaphysics as it does with business shite. I’m still conflicted about letting my words get published, but I was enticed by the appropriate reassurances from the editorial team at Liberty Project — no editing of my words without approval, total anonymity for myself and the other contributors to this series.
And as a footnote to this, I was asked by Liberty Project to recommend other potential contributors — people I know who are turning to global talent markets. I suggested a few and I hope they write something. It’s an important conversation to have.
So here goes:
About the business stuff: As is true for any momentous corporate decision, the question has countless answers. So I had trouble distilling the essence, the ‘zero moment of truth’ — the ‘ZMOT,’ as the hip techies say. But then I figured it out, and it was a tiny bit mind-expanding.
I’ve hit my limit, I’m done. I’ve had it with American arrogance, which has seeped down from the top of our oligarchist two-party system. It’s metastasized and festered in our brains and society’s vital organs. So much so that the fun and invention and job satisfaction has been ripped away from doing business as a tech entrepreneur in America now. Gone are the days of code and mission, the ‘esprit de corps’ and scrappy small-team dynamics that made it fun to go to work and work from work… It’s enough to hear the banshee call to arms. I’ll not do something for the money alone. It has to make sense.
Well-intended or not, anti-entrepreneur legislation and legal system-driven opportunism has destroyed most of what was electrifying about the early days of tech entrepreneurship. Those who’ve never milked a cow should not claim to be experts on dairy farming. False authority on the part of elected officials masks their shallow personal agendas and fogs the windshield that should be kept clear for true leaders.
Capitalism is, for sure, a flawed system. But, as a tenet of a civil society, it has something going for it that will never expire. Something quite pure: Maslow’s hierarchy of need. Another word for it is greed. Yeah, humans are greedy, and we’re trained by instinct and nurture to get food, safety and shelter covered above all else.
For those who have canines — dogs, not teeth — once you get yourself a pup, a little “need machine” your mission changes. You strive to be a terrific parent, the right one for the right pup. You gotta get them a roof and food and clothes and gear and some kind of education and all that other costly stuff. Of course, it goes much deeper if the pup is a homo sapien.
So you acquire some healthy habits. Those habits, it can be said, are not unlike those who train American Armed Forces and Ukrainians to protect and serve. Those habits require willpower and discipline and the avoidance of temptations like sloth, apathy, addiction, and stealing from other people who are following a similar code.
Why are the young generations so wise and stupid at the same time?
Ink has been sprayed on this by the best minds in the world, yet it remains a mystery.
So here’s one theory, starting on a positive note:
Why are the youngest generations so wise?
Through privilege and strife, they view the world as a place governed by a ton of rules that make no sense. So they storm soccer fields and glue themselves to the Mona Lisa. They riot and pillage, with or without violence. In their fledgling phase, they fling themselves at injustice and challenge the silliness of our poorly run planet. Those crazy kids and their rock’n’roll. This is an inarguable and oft-repeated truth.
Here’s what people don’t talk about: the next bit, the Second Half. The fear of mortality that drives us close to home and family and the things that make us feel comfortable and loved.
Our lives get shorter every moment… Good segue to the next question:
Why are the youngest generations so stupid?
Youth is misspent on the young. The brilliance of imagination and rebellion and societal evolution does not guarantee systemic progress. One is a flash in the brain, and the other is a decades-long/centuries-long movement — away from racism and sexism and anti-semitism and all religious discrimination… towards the acceptance of the broad spectrum of sexuality.
For younger generations, the hierarchy of need is reversed. They kick and yell and demand to be heard. They’re motivated by self-image rather than cranking through a bucket list. They don’t have mouths to feed, or bills that can’t go unpaid without harm to those they love.
America is still a brash teenager. Here’s hoping we can accelerate the development of our frontal lobe.
America needs to figure out what it wants to be as it grows up. Meanwhile, I’ll be recruiting across borders, seeking young and old people who have the benefit of more history and tradition, who still have the hunger.
Playlist For Thought:
empire state of mind (jay-z and alicia)
thousands are sailing (pogues)
lose yourself (eminem)
black boys on mopeds (sinead)
dirty boulevard (lou reed)
shipping up to boston (dropkicks)
madame george (van morrison)
body of an american (pogues)
daddy i'm fine (sinead)
wonderful world (louis armstrong)