The Circle for Justice Innovations Fund wishes to convey our sorrow at the profound loss of Harry Belafonte, an actor, singer, artist, philanthropist and formidable movement leader. Mr. Belafonte played a decisive role in the betterment of humanity all over the world, but he was particularly instrumental at critical junctures in U.S. history when courage and integrity were required. Mr. Belafonte was a significant figure in the Civil Rights movement, raising money and donating much of his own to the movement, and speaking out against Jim Crow when many others remained silent rather than risk their livelihoods. Close to Dr. King, he also supported the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as well as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
He was a prolific leader of the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s and early 1990s as an active member of Artists Against Apartheid, joining demonstrations against the South African embassy in Washington, D.C., and was part of the Sun City recording project which supported anti-apartheid organizing in the U.S. and South Africa. It is in this movement that I encountered this human rights giant as a young anti-apartheid activist working for The American Committee and the Africa Fund. Mr. Belafonte also helped to organize the USA for Africa effort for hunger relief, which led to the celebrity-packed We Are the World recording, raising millions.
Years later, Mr. Belafonte joined the fight against the growing prison industrial complex, and its targeted incarceration of young Black and Brown people, who found themselves at the nexus of poverty, violence, miseducation, and hyper-policed communities. He was able to address the links between harsh sentencing policies that scapegoated youth to the sins of omission perpetuated by so-called leaders who stripped poor communities of color of dignified housing, schooling, employment, medical care, and social programs, then blamed them for the chaos that ensued. Throughout it all, Mr. Belafonte remained positive and inspirational.
With his creation of The Gathering, Mr. Belafonte encouraged the young people who suffered through this designed neglect; and provided much-needed resources to the organizations dedicated to doing right by them. It is there that two of CJI’s Steering Committee members, Albino Garcia, founder and ED of La Plazita, and George Galvis, founder and ED of CURYJ, had the great honor of working with him.
A light has gone out, but we rest in the knowledge that he has sparked innumerable fires in the next generation.
Go in Peace, Baba Harry! Fare thee well!
Aleah Bacquie Vaughn