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Belafonte addresses inequality in MLK keynote

Virginia Lozano/Daily
Award winning social activist, Harry Belafonte, speaking at the keynote memorial lecture of the Martin Luther King Jr. symposium, at Hill Auditorium on Monday. Buy this photo

By Tanaz Ahmed, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 20, 2014

For the 28th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium, Harry Belafonte, a social activist and award-winning musician, delivered the keynote memorial lecture at Hill Auditorium.

Every year, the University holds the largest Martin Luther King, Jr. Day symposium of any college in the nation. Along with the keynote speech, the University held several other events that examined the symposium’s 2014 theme, “Power, Justice, Love: Heal the Divide.”

According to the symposium’s website, the notions of power, justice and love were transformed during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Together, these changed concepts helped bridge the divide created by racial violence and inequality.

Belafonte, a noted singer and songwriter, worked with King and former President John F. Kennedy during the Civil Rights Movement. He was formerly a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, promoting one of the United Nations principal charitable organizations.

Belafonte called on the attendees to look for solutions to a variety of systemic problems, ranging from lingering racism to violence agasint women, adding that, “somewhere along the line we (the nation) seemed to have lost our moral compass.”

During his speech, Belafonte discussed issues the country currently faces, such as the unequal distribution of wealth and its connection to the prevalence of racism and sexism in popular culture.

Belafonte also recounted the last time he worked with King before his assassination. At the time, King told him, “I’ve come to the realization that I think we are integrating into a burning house.” To save the country from the painful ending, King said to Belafonte that they must become firemen.

He continued King’s metaphor and stated that the only way to become firemen and save the nation from being consumed by its problems of poverty, racism and sexism was for people to take responsibility for their actions and the world around them.

“We can ignore our responsibilities and pay the price, but I think there’s still time for us to sit and seriously take stock of what's going on,” Belafonte said. “Because this inclement weather we are experiencing, it’s our fault, let no one tell you differently. It is up to us to find the moral center.”

LSA sophomore Queosha Jones said she was glad she could learn from someone who was friends with King and was actually a part of the civil rights movement.

“There’s still a lot of change that needs to happen and I think young people have to try to make that happen,” Jones said.

Belafonte encouraged the new generation of young men and women to look to historical figures such as King, Nelson Mandela and W.E.B. DuBois for inspiration on how to take action.

“How do we fix things? Let’s get back to what we know how to do.”


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