Jarett Fields ER Room:
By Jarett Fields
This week, I had the opportunity to hear Harry Belafonte speak at the YWCA’s 9th Annual Evening to Promote Racial Justice.
In recent years, Belafonte has been in and out of the media for public clashes with the children of civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jay-Z and Beyoncé.
But those clashes pale in comparison to the human rights work that Belafonte has engaged, the donations he’s provided, the speeches he’s given, and the endorsements of elected officials in America and around the world.
During the evening he joked that his morning phone call, unlike some celebrities isn’t with his accountant.
His morning phone call is with former South African President, and in Belafonte’s words, “the moral compass of the world,” Nelson Mandela.
His broader point was that in order to be engaged in the continued civil and human rights struggles, you have to surround yourself with company dedicated to the same.
At one point in the evening, Belafonte was asked if he could only focus on two global issues, what they would be, he answered, very quickly: women and children.
He talked about the need for healing in our communities with respect to gender and women.
He castigated all public abuse of women and decried those rappers whose lyrics included references to women as whores and other derogatory language.
With regard to children, he spoke about the need to protect and respect our world.
He referenced biological research suggesting that the honey bee species will be extinct within a decade, to explain that if one species can be decimated by global warming, pollution, and other human-related activities that destroy the earth, how long before our own species falls victim to our actions.
In specific reference to Wisconsin, he talked about Governor Walker and the influence of the Koch brothers.
His view was that Wisconsin taught the rest of the country what “evil” looks like and that we have to fight it at every turn.
At another point, Belafonte was asked what is next in the fight for justice.
He could not say what was next but he did say what he felt was necessary.
He said as citizens of America, we must be sensitized to and reflect on democracy.
He was most distressed about our treatment of the vote.
The vote, he said, “is an instrument we can’t dismiss.”
He recalled the civil rights leaders who were killed for their work in trying to secure the vote and other rights.
And he called on today’s leaders, like those of the sixties to understand the crisis of our situation.
He said we needed more leaders like Paul Robeson, Bobby Kennedy, and W.E.B. DuBois. But he took a different turn from his previous talks about President Obama.
He ended with an anecdotal story about President Franklin Roosevelt and A. Phillip Randolph.
Roosevelt invited A. Phillip Randolph to the White House to seek Randolph’s view on how he could use his power as president to effect change.
At the end of the conversation, Roosevelt challenged A. Phillip Randolph to “make me do those things.”
In the same way, Belafonte concluded that it is not President Obama who is failing, it’s the American people who are failing by not making the president do all those things that we feel are necessary.
I took those words as a challenge and I relay that challenge: to make our elected officials do those things which we feel are necessary with respect to our community, our schools, our businesses, our city, and our state.