On March 3 several hundred people gathered at a New York restaurant to honor Harry Belafonte on the occasion of his eightieth birthday. Attendees included Wyclef Jean, Representative Charlie Rangel, Susan Sarandon, Tony Bennett, Amy Goodman and… Bill Clinton, who dropped by. Frequent Nation contributor and bestselling author Walter Mosley was there as well and gave the following tribute. –The Editors
Harry Belafonte is the best of us. Black and beautiful, brave and unwavering, willing to upset the apple cart and to lend a helping hand 365 days of the year. He entertained us not when we had given up hope but when we didn’t even know that hope was an option. He has spoken for us not only when we were silent but when we weren’t even aware of the words that burned in our breasts. When we whisper, he shouts and sings and calls upon gods whose names we have forgotten.
But Harry is much more than simply our better; more than a political black man who has defied a system that was once seemingly unassailable and invulnerable to the rebellions of our dark flesh. His exploits are mythic in the political arena (because he is Beowulf and Gilgamesh rolled up into one, and everything we do is weighed down by politics).
But Harry has gone beyond all that. Harry has not just defied the status quo, the man, the house Negro and the world’s biggest terrorist. He has also challenged and defeated old age and the death of spirit, youth and optimism. While the rest of us have become old and begun, like all our ancestors, to blame our mistakes on our children, Harry Belafonte has found a fountain of youth in his heart and has refused to give up on the children who needed us and were abandoned by most of us. He’s gone out among gangs and young hopefuls, the orphaned and criminalized, the nascent organizers and the forgotten youth, and he has given them his time, his money, his brilliance and, most important, access to his limitless reservoir of hope.
Harry Belafonte is truly a man of the people. And I believe that as a people, beyond our corrupt oligarchic government, we should name a day for our best and brightest and most beautiful. I think we should spread the word that the first day of spring is Harry Belafonte Day, or Day-O, because he is our beginning and our hope forever.