Legendary Singer/Activist Harry Belafonte promotes Sankofa

Singer/Activist Harry Belafonte.

Singer/Activist Harry Belafonte.

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.

Harry Belafonte during his entertainment days.

Harry Belafonte during his heyday when he brought Jamaican folk songs to the consciousness of his international fan base.

“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.

Jamie Foxx responded immediately to Belafonte's call and encouraged others to do the same.

Jamie Foxx responded immediately to Belafonte’s call and encouraged others to do the same.

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.”

chick D

Chuck D, seen here on the Arsenio Hall Show, joined other rappers in responding to Harry Belafonte’s call to activism.

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.

Conscious rapper Common has been involved in the Sankofa initiative.

Conscious rapper Common has been involved in the Sankofa initiative.

“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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Treating trauma early can prevent extreme actions from sufferers

William Kellibrew makes a point.

William Kellibrew IVmakes a point.

By Carmen Glover

As more details emerge about Aaron Alexis’ background, the relationship between his life unraveling due to his sporadic treatment for mental health issues and trauma, which he allegedly suffered in many ways, is receiving more attention. Although all victims of trauma do not resort to murderous rampages such as Alexis’ attacks at the Navy Yard in the nation’s capital, many trauma sufferers quickly admit that they are emotionally vulnerable and susceptible to erratic conduct and thoughts which, unless properly treated, can lead to unpredictable behavior.

At a training held at the New York offices of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, (SAMHSA) in conjunction with Project Hope, mental health professionals partnered with a national spokesperson and survivor of trauma to discuss the importance of treating trauma. Under the theme: “Trauma-Informed Care: A Change in Perspective,” Dr. Joan Gillece, Jill A. Sergott and William Kellibrew IV, SAMSHA ‘s National Center for Trauma Informed Care (NCTIC) consultants delved into the issue, providing tips for treating trauma sufferers. Kellibrew, a survivor of horrific childhood trauma, shared his story.

Williams KellibrewIV

Williams Kellibrew IV

According to SAMHSA’s literature, “Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically and emotionally harmful or threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s physical, social, emotional or spiritual well-being.”  One of the most important shifts in treating trauma sufferers, said Dr Gillece, is to ask “What happened to you, instead of what’s wrong with you?” She said that using the approach that people exhibit trauma due to something that they experienced allows those who are providing care to embrace a new sense of understanding when interacting with that population, That shift in perspective, she said, will strengthen the bond between the caregiver and the client, leading to better results. Sergott talked extensively about her background working with children who experienced trauma from very young ages. She cited the importance of utilizing strategies that may seem unorthodox, but which allow the children to feel comfortable and safe.

But the most compelling speaker of the day was Kellibrew, whose story was profiled on the Oprah Winfrey Show in an episode when he appeared with Dr. William Cosby and Dr. Alvin Poussaint. Kellibrew  recounted being a scared 10-year-old in 1983 when his mother’s boyfriend shot her repeatedly in the face, killing her and his 12-year-old brother. Kellibrew said he “prayed” and “begged” for his life, prompting the shooter to spare him, before killing himself.  The following day, Kellibrew’s witnessed his grandfather shooting his next door neighbor. Kellibrew said all of that happened when he was grappling with the reality of being violently raped by a neighbor at age 6. “I remember telling my grandmother what the neighbor did to me and she held me and cried, which showed me her love and that comforted me,” he recalled.

Kellibrew, who visited the home where his mother and brother were killed, for the first time on Oprah, broke down on the air as he was flooded with emotions. At the SAMHSA event, he said that the care he received from his grandmother, his school principal and a therapist who treated him when he was hospitalized for a month after he expressed suicidal thoughts, was instrumental in his recovery. He cited a quote from legendary poet and educator Dr Maya Angelou: People will forget what you said or what you did but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

But the struggle continues for Kellibrew. “My mother and brother were murdered on July 2 so that date is painful for me, but now I am doing better with coping,” he said. He said the trauma upended his life for years because “trauma disrupts a sense of control and meaning.”  Kellibrew, who admitted to being hospitalized more than nine times to receive treatment for the profound trauma of his childhood, said he turned to violence, drugs, alcohol, unhealthy relationships, running away, being homeless as he tried to repress the painful memories of losing a mother whom he said he adored.

“If healing is going to happen, if recovery is going to happen, it will happen if someone cares,” he said, adding, “It’s those people in my life who believed in me and cared about me that pushed me forward.” Yet he recalled a relative patting him on the back at the funeral and saying: “Baby, you’re going to have to forget about it. Don’t talk about it.” Such misguided advice, he said, can permanently scar victims and make them unwilling to seek the help that they desperately need to heal and become productive members of society. “The two populations that are hardest to reach in terms of receiving treatment for trauma are African-American men and children under 10,” Kellibrew said, emphasizing a sense of urgency in reaching those two groups and providing them with services so that they no longer feel alone.

Kellibrew currently attends the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), in the nation’s capital, where he is pursuing a business administration degree. He has been featured on MSNBC, CNN, BBC Worldwide and the Washington Post, among others. In October 2011, during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, he was honored by the White House as a “Champion for Change” because of his efforts to end domestic violence and sexual assault. He has also blogged for the White House.

For more victims of trauma to make the transition to survivors, more people need to demonstrate that they care enough to make a call and reach out for expert help if the person’s appearance and interactions have changed to the extent that causes the observer to feel some degree of concern. That call might save several lives.—OnPointPress.net