May 4, 2015
It is difficult to find a member of the X generation who didn’t grow up watching PBS’ “Reading Rainbow,” or at least hear about “Star Trek: Next Generation.”
The common denominator in both these shows is one man: LeVar Burton, who spoke as part of the Significant Speakers series on April 27.
“I simply want kids to grow up as readers,” said Burton on his lifelong passion for the written word. “I believe it is impossible for a human being to rise to the extent of full potential without being a reader.”
Burton hosted “Reading Rainbow” during its two-decade duration. He also played Lt. Geordi La Forge in “Star Trek: Next Generation” and a young Kunta Kinte in “Roots.”
“I think you can teach children anything you want them to learn if we couch it with storytelling,” he said.
When addressed as Mr. Burton, LeVar said “Mr. Burton is what we call my father. I’m LeVar. I sometimes answer to Geordi, as well.”
Burton spoke on literacy in the United States. He did so the way he does best: through storytelling.
He began by telling the audience about his childhood, specifically about his mother, Erma Jean Christian. He said that Christian worked as a social worker by day and cocktail waitress by night to put Burton through college.
“None of us in this life gets through this life alone,” he said.
Then Burton spoke of the power of literature and imagination. He told the audience that he was an avid reader as a child and was drawn more toward science fiction because of the “what if” aspect.
“It was not very often that I encountered characters in those science fiction pages that looked like me,” he said.
Burton wrote a term paper on Malcolm X as a freshman in college, using a biography authored by Alex Haley. He then met Haley the following year when he was given the role as Kunta Kinte in Haley’s “Roots.”
“Everything happens for a reason, y’all. There are no accidents in this universe,” Burton said.
He also addressed the issue of racism and said spending more money on war than education is unacceptable.
“Unless we learn to cooperate more and compete less, we are destined to burn our house down,” he said.
Burton gave the audience storytelling time as he read aloud from his children’s book, “The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm.”
He noted, “You had a hand in creating whatever you are experiencing and whatever you are experiencing is your legacy.”