[INSPIRATION] An evening with Harry Belafonte

“I spoke to Harry Belafonte on the phone and he sends his apologies but said that he’d be happy to meet any young person who wanted to speak to him after this evening’s screening of Sing Your Song.” As the words left the BFI Educational director’s mouth I wondered for a second if it might actually happen.

Myself and 14 other young people sat in near silence as singer/activist Harry Belafonte answered our questions and spoke about his life to date, and at the age of 83 you can only imagine what a life it’s been (how many 83 year olds do you know that are knowledgeable about the power of social media?!). The funny thing was I actually expected there to be more than 15 people but the intimate setting was perfect. The group was mainly university students that were studying courses ranging from media to criminology (the guy studying Criminology was from Portugal but was of African descent and was here in the UK to study the course so he could learn how to help his community back home as a life of crime was something that many of the youth in his community opted for).

Although I didn’t get to see the film in the morning the mere fact that one of the girls was moved to tears whilst thanking him for making the documentary was touching and he commented that he hoped that more people were moved in this way after seeing the film.

I was scribbling down much of what he said so as well as the video below (I made sure I swapped details with the guy recording). I’ve included some of the excerpts from our meeting with him.

To say I’m inspired is really only half. It’s not often that opportunities like this come. Thanks to the BFI Educational board for facilitating and working with Mr Belafonte’s team to make sure young people went home wanting to make a change.

On his work as an activist:

“People always when as an artist did I become an activist, the question should be the other way around. Activism is in my blood.”

On working with Martin Luther King Jr:

“Knowing him was its own journey . I watched him grow into the Dr King that he’s remembered for today.”

On Occupy Wall Street:

“I believe that with all the riots and protesting going on across the world, especially in the US that future leaders will come out of the current rebellion.”

On young people becoming activists/leaders:

“You have to remember that although oppression was something that was old, the people that brought liberation were young. It was teenagers that were taking trips to the South to show their support. Myself and Dr King were in our late teens.”

“The decisions they make will grow out of the urgencies of their time.”

“I’m happy that there’s a generation of young people who refuse to be ignored.”

On managing to stay both mentally and physially fit throughout everything:

“Is ’cause I is a Jamaican!”

On his celebrity:

“What do I do with the opportunities I’m given? I can go home and hang up an autographed picture of someone on my wall and that be it or I can get involved.”

On making change:

 – There must come a point when you stop believing you’re a victim, that you can’t do something because of this or that.

-Seek those who share your feelings, there’s a lot of power in a collective.