Remembering the Life and Legacy of Harry Belafonte

On March 14, 2005, Ja’eisha Scott was arrested and handcuffed by police in St. Petersburg, Florida for refusing to play a classroom game. Shortly thereafter, sitting in my office doing routine tasks, I received a phone call. While I did not recognize the number, the voice on the other end was immediately recognizable. “James, this is Harry Belafonte. Dr. King and I did not work so hard in the civil rights movement to have five-year-old Black girls arrested and handcuffed in kindergarten. What are we gonna do about this? “ I had no idea how to respond except to say, “We have let our young people down.” “No more! It is time to lift them up,” he replied.

Thus began our ongoing relationship with Mr. B, as we called him; a man whose activism and social justice clarity were beacons of light for us. He brought his gravitas and celebrity connections to our fight for youth justice. As we explained state-sanctioned animus toward young people of color, he would sit, listen, and give sage advice. Always forward—never back.

A talented performer, trailblazer, and a social activist, Mr. B used his voice to fight injustice and disrupt the status quo, but he was also a husband, father, and dear friend to the Haywood Burns Institute.

Through his music and activism, Mr. B inspired countless people to stand up for their rights and fight for a better future. He had a kind heart and a willingness to help others, and his generosity was felt by all who knew him. Over the next few days, there will be tributes and multiple accounts of Mr. B’s tremendous accomplishments. What is unmistakably true is that his legacy as a social activist and liberation warrior will endure for generations.

Mr. B never lost sight of his mission to create a more just and equitable world. His dedication to social justice and activism inspires us all, and his music continues to bring joy and hope to communities worldwide. We are grateful for all he has done for humanity, our organization, and those we serve.

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