Levar Burton recalls tv roles while touting power of education

by LP Green, II

With an English teacher for a mother, LeVar Burton grew up in an environment where reading was “mandatory.”

“In my house, you either read a book, or she hit you upside the head with one,” he told a group of several hundred at the Scranton Cultural Center on Tuesday.

The star of cultural juggernauts like “Reading Rainbow,” “Roots” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” was in town to speak at the 50th anniversary of the Scranton Lackawanna Human Development Agency, a corporation that distributes public funds to organizations that fight poverty.

While addressing the group, William Cockerill, the president of the agency’s board of directors, touted the more than 1,400 children helped by partner organization Head Start.

“Who would have thought that 50 years ago we would be here today?” he said.

In his own speech, titled “The Power of Storytelling: Written. Spoken, Lived,” Mr. Burton remembered his career while stressing the importance of childhood literacy and education in improving the quality of lives.

“My mother knew that there was no tool that she could give her children better than a quality education,” he said.

He noted the striking teachers picketing the Scranton School District Administration Building across the street from the cultural center, saying they needed a fair contract so they could be where they were supposed to be: the classroom.

A household name since he first appeared in “Roots” in 1977, Mr. Burton, now 58, grasped attention spans with the skill of an actor with 12 Emmys and decades of experience on his r�sum�.

He recalled being plucked as a drama student at the University of Southern California to star in the massively rated mini-series “Roots,” where he met show creator Alex Haley, one of his three storytelling mentors.

The second of that trio was his eventual boss Gene Roddenberry, who first caught Mr. Burton’s attention by putting an African-American actress on his original “Star Trek” show, gently urging Americans to consider a better and more harmonious world at a time when the medium featured very few black faces.

And he touted his third mentor, Fred Rogers, a fellow educator on PBS with the show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” who taught him “the importance of being your authentic self.”

Regarding his PBS program, “Reading Rainbow,” which ran from 1983 until 2009 and continues online, Mr. Burton said he moved it there once he realized “mobile devices were beginning to dominate the eyeballs of kids.” He vowed to return the program to television.


By Peter Cameron from The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa.

(c)2015 The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.)



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