A star-studded, red carpet parade of celebrities fashioned styles and elegance on March 1 in order to pay tribute to international actorvist Harry Belafonte whose 95th birthday anniversary coincided with the inaugural presentation of a social justice award named in his honor.
Actors Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Spike Lee, Malik Yoba, Alfre Woodard, musicians Lenny Kravitz, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Q-Tip, Doug E. Fresh, Alicia Keys, activist Al Sharpton, Gina Belafonte and other prominent individuals walked the route media and spectators often assemble to gawk prior to a fundraising ceremony held at Manhattan’s Town Hall.
There, the honoree’s daughter spoke with reporters about her Sankofa.org which sponsored the fundraising event and also marked a decade of activism.
She explained the significance of her father’s birthday tribute but also detailed the evening’s launch of the Harry Belafonte Social Justice Awards.
Founded by Belafonte, the organization’s mission is to “enlist the support of celebrated artists and influential individuals in collaboration with grassroots partners to elevate the voices of the disfranchised and promote justice, peace and equality.”
She announced that in keeping with that mission, presentations would be made to Angela Davis, Dr. Cornel West, Rashad Robinson, Kimberle Crenshaw, Darren Waller, Hank Willis Thomas, Congresswoman Barbara Lee and former Attorney General Eric Holder.
Members of the Bronx-based Jamaica Progressive League showed up in numbers to salute the milestone anniversary of Jamaica’s native son and also endorse the humanitarian causes the organization represents.
Simultaneous to the gala, Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced that in conjunction with this year’s 60th anniversary of independence, a highway on the island will be named to honor the celebrated actor and humanitarian.
“As we celebrate with Harry Belafonte, his 95 years, the government and people of Jamaica…in this our 60th year of independence will name one of our highways after our titan, in his honor and in recognition of the long road to freedom Harry Belafonte has traversed on behalf of our people,” Prime Minister Holness said.
The leader added that Belafonte “is an icon whose pristine voice, soaring melodies and music on the global stage, magically matched the rhythm and power of his stride in the march for equal rights, justice and empowerment.”
Revered for his sincere, consistent loyalty and dedication to Jamaica, during the Jamerican Film Festival hosted by actress Sheryl Lee Ralph he was described in planetary terms.
Harry Belafonte is ‘more than a star, he’s a galaxy.’
Born in Harlem, Belafonte has always hailed the island his mother Melvine was born. Belafonte lived there during his youth and became an unofficial ambassador when he recorded “Jamaica Farewell” a song popularly embraced by its repetitive “Day-O” chorus.
His recordings of that breakthrough song and other lilting island melodies, dubbed him the King of Calypso and a champion of the Caribbean.
Although an accomplished singer, actor and movie star, in his early years Belafonte stepped out of his comfort zone to align with causes steered by Civil Rights activists Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Michael Manley, Miriam Makeba, Stokely Carmichael (Sekou Toure) and others.
In his pursuit of equity for all he not only donated funds to promote their ideals but coalesced with Hollywood notables to promote racial harmony, fairness and social justice.
More than 70 years has passed since Belafonte first began advocating for the voiceless. His legacy abounds as a storied example his fans continue to admire.
Others who paid tribute to the legendary personality included journalist Amy Goodman, John Legend, Michael Moore, Jesse Williams, Bill T. Jones Aloe Blacc and the Belafonte Alumni Band.
On March 1, Winston Rodney aka Burning Spear also celebrated his birthday anniversary. The date marked his 77th.