By Carmen Glover
Legendary singer and activist Harry Belafonte, whose passion for activism seems unwavering, sat comfortably perched on a chair in the MSNBC studio recently, talking eloquently about his life, philosophy and motivation for his new organization, Sankofa. Belafonte, whose career has spanned decades as a folk singer, humanitarian and civil rights activist, is now focusing his attention on social justice issues.
Inspired by the overarching goal of ending violence and oppression across the globe, Belafonte founded the Sankofa Justice and Equity Project. Sankofa is a non-profit organization that aims to harness the strength of popular culture, celebrity power and collaboration to energize a new generation towards effective activism. Sankofa, according to its social media page, “supports and encourages a new generation of artists to speak to the layered injustices that face marginalized communities.” The organization has its genesis in a compelling speech Belafonte delivered a year ago at the NAACP Image Award function.
“In that speech I spoke to my fellow artists about the act of social responsibility and I challenged my colleagues to step up to the plate and become more engaged in deeper social issues,” he said of his motivation to start the organization. “Several artists on the spot, led by Jamie Foxx, stepped up to the plate,” Belafonte explained. “The very next day, Jamie Foxx, without any formality, got on a plane and flew to New York and participated in Union Square in a rally putting light on the issue of what happened to Trayvon Martin.”
Martin was the unarmed teenager who was murdered by an unrepentant George Zimmerman in Florida. Zimmerman was found not guilty at trial.
Belafonte said that Foxx’s immediate response had enormous implications. “His presence caught press attention and brought huge resources to the table. He also reached out and influenced other people like Chuck D and Common. We had a huge meeting here in New York and about 60 of the leading artists in rap culture showed up and said : What can we do?'”
Belafonte explained that “artists have a platform. They have a power. They have a gift and by using that gift in the service of others who are being drowned out by inequity and systems that are unjust, we begin to put a light and a new dynamic into what is going on with the poor, racially oppressed, sexually abused and by doing that we have heightened the consciousness of people who are distracted from taking a deeper look at what goes on in social issues.”
But Belafonte made it clear that his appreciation for the impact of artists is born out of his experiences from the past, particularly joining with icons such as Sidney Poitier, Paul Robeson, Mahalia Jackson, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Bob Dylan and other artists who were unafraid to take active roles in the civil rights movement to achieve positive social change.
“Paul Robeson once said artists are the gatekeepers of truth,” Belafonte said, emphasizing the importance of artists taking active roles in moving a social agenda to help others. As he reflected on the overall aim for Sankofa and the outpouring of support that the movement has received so far from the rap community, he disclosed that a specific focus has been identified as the first course of action.
“We decided that our first major attempt at using this power is around the issue of women and the role men play in women’s issues,” he said, while explaining that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is committed to the issue as well. “Mayor de Blasio is involved and the first warm day of summer there will be a gathering in Central Park to talk about issues affecting women.”
The focus of Sankofa is laudable and the scope of the organization seems to be broad and altruistic. As more information is shared with the public about the organization’s initiatives, it is hoped that support will grow and more groups will partner with Belafonte and the artists who have already committed to Sanfoka’s goals so that deserving communities can reap the rewards of this new wave of activism. -OnPointPress.net.
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