Harry Belafonte speaking at an event sponsored by the Left Labor Project (LLP) on December 10, 2012. Location: 1199SEIU Martin Luther King, Jr. Auditorium on 43 Street in New York City. Photo credit: Thomas Good/Creative Commons

The sweetest calypso song, Harry Belafonte

2 mins read

Personifying artistry and activism, many memorialize a veteran singer, actor and activist.

Mr. Harold George Bellanfanti, Jr., aka, Harry Belafonte, quietly walked into a room for an award show in the early 2000s. Everyone either stood, gasped or clapped, but we all stopped. His presence overtook the room. We were looking at decades of committed activism and a calabash filled with wisdom. 

Strikingly, his presence was grand, yet underwhelming. I had been in many spaces with big names walking in. The ego often preceded them. Unlike that, Mr. Belafonte’s energy was far from the bravado I often saw with others who have far lesser resumes.

Then, I was a young Los Angeles journalist in my early 20s. At that time, I wrestled with ideas around power and inequity while covering a succession of sad stories around Black people. When I saw Mr. Belafonte at that press junket, I witnessed the most refined dignity carefully ensconced in well-curated authority. His appearance became my reassurance to move forward, but learn the time-honored wisdom of the power in goodwill.

Mr. Belafonte spoke for about 15 minutes. His signature raspy voice, ever so measured, told tales of activism interwoven with a sage’s perspective. Much like a vintage calypso song carrying as much sweetness and vivacity since its debut.

After finding out about Mr. After Belafonte’s passing on April 25, 2023 at the age of 96, I could only offer gratitude and celebration. His life was beyond well-lived. His unyielding commitment to justice and human rights expands beyond the celestial mappings of man. When looking at his epic journey, from first breath to last, no obituary, or biography, as detailed as they might be, can fathom the memories and lived experiences he gathered.

One that I hold with reverence is that he provided financial support to activists and the children to those advocates who were slain. Two stories come to mind. At the height of the most intense battles in Civil Rights, he funded a trip for a number of Civil Rights leaders to get some rest and reprieve on a trip to Africa. Fannie Lou Hamer, one of the activists, spoke about the collective journey in detail. It would be her only trip there.

The other story is how Mr. Belafonte helped with the expenses in maintaining both Martin Luther King Jr.’s and Malcolm X’s families after their murders.

My grandmother also transitioned at 96. During the last months of her life she spoke about some of the incidents that shaped her perspective. One of them was the controversial trial of her father who was acquitted for killing a white man in Louisiana in the early 20th century. Though he had to leave town, years later his body parts were found on the train tracks of St. Martinville. When reading her obituary, I learned that she was a secret card-carrying member of the NAACP. I know that moment changed, yet activated her.

So when a friend asked about my feelings around my grandmother’s death, it was clear to me that she showed me how to die through how she lived. That is Mr. Belafonte to me.

 

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