“The purpose of art is not just to show life as it is but as it should be.”

Harry Belafonte has exemplified this statement through his numerous accomplishments in artistic and humanitarian pursuits including a concert singer, recording artist, Broadway and television star and producer, as well as a renowned human rights activist.

Through poverty, racism, learning disabilities, and physical illness, he has achieved much, successfully fusing together his work in human rights along with his artistic endeavors. Belafonte, a thoughtful and deeply spiritual man, has mobilized the arts community for civil rights, global equality, children’s welfare, the AIDS crisis as well as countless other organizations and causes.

As part of the Jacoby-Lunim Humanitarian lectureship presented by The Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies and The Open Vision Forum on Monday night at the Quick Center, Belafonte lectured about his life and the many challenges he faced before reaching success. Raised in Jamaica by a single mother, Belafonte returned to Harlem and was profoundly affected by the poverty, inequality, culture and music he encountered in all places.

“I saw how songs affected my family,” said Belafonte. “It uplifted them even in great turbulence. I didn’t know how this would affect me until later.”

Belafonte has battled against inequality and injustice of all kinds throughout his life. As a child, his battles with undiagnosed dyslexia and school have manifested themselves in his love and tireless battle for children’s welfare across the world.

His sense of truth and fairness, compounded by his academic woes, led him to enlist in the Navy in World War II and fight injustice across the world. “School became a huge hurdle,” said Belafonte. “I saw the Navy as an opportunity for discipline and joined not only because it was a way out but because I believed in what it was all about.”

Belafonte eventually became the involved in the Dramatic Workshop of the School of Social Research, after receiving free tickets to the American Negro Theater, where he began to develop his craft and thoughts. “I knew this would be my life,” said Belafonte. “Somewhere in it was what I wanted to be.”

Discrimination led to Belafonte’s expansion to new artistic pursuits, eventually leading him to the world of music. “It was here I saw the opportunity with the arts, but was held back by my race,” Belafonte said.

As an actor, he was severely limited in his roles and frequently was only offered those of a “butler, buffoon or servant.” A job as an intermission singer eventually led to a record contract and “launched [Belafonte] into a world I was not prepared for.”

His album Calypso would become the first ever to sell a million records, with songs becoming famous all over the world, including the ever popular “Day O.” “It helped me to understand that there were other cultures that I should reflect in and on,” said Belafonte. “It was the power of music and cultures that led me to speak out on issues bothering me.”

One such issue Belafonte got involved in was the Civil Rights movement. Belafonte was a notable figure in the 1960s for his work in the movement, as he came to be looked upon as a driving force behind its efforts. During his time within the movement, Belafonte established a great friendship with Martin Luther King and looks upon the movement as a truly great accomplishment.

“I think the Civil Rights movement was an enormous success,” said Belafonte. “It has impacted America forever and it will not be reversed.”

Belafonte has also been involved with the United Nations, UNICEF, We are the World, Hands Across America, African Aid projects and many projects centering around children, their survival and wellbeing.

For those who attended the lecture, many found it to be extremely uplifting, looking towards Belafonte as a great, positive role model.

“It’s amazing how much he has accomplished throughout his life,” said Fairfield University junior Tyla Klopfer. “Some may think he is just a singer, but he has really achieved success on a number of levels.”

Professor Ellen Umanksy, director of Judaic Studies, agreed with Kopler, looking upon Belafonte’s words as truly inspirational. “He grew up during a time where African-American’s has a difficult time succeeding and most of his experience is racism” she said. “It’s inspiring to hear that he has overcome so much in his lifetime.”

Andrew Wadden ’05 also found the speech to be motivating, and admits he learned much more than he expected to. “I had only heard about him because of his music,” he said. “So it was kind of surprising to discover how much he truly has done. I look at him now as someone who has accomplished something in everything he has done.”

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