Black History Month keynote speaker: An afternoon with Harry Belafonte


About 800 students, Manhattan residents and out-of-town guests packed McCain Auditorium Monday afternoon to see renowned singer, songwriter, actor and social activist Harry Belafonte speak.

The Black Student Union celebrates Black History Month each year by hosting events, as well as bringing in a keynote speaker. This year, the BSU was able to secure
the world-famous Belafonte.

“Mr. Harry Belafonte is by far the biggest name that the Black Student Union has been able to bring to campus,” said Marcus Bragg, president of the BSU and senior in management information systems.

Belafonte was a vocal and acting supporter of the civil rights movement, and one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s confidants and family friends. He is also known as an advocate for humanitarian causes.

The afternoon started out with welcome messages and addresses from leaders of the BSU and student body president, Eli Schooley. Schooley noted that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at K-State in 1968, connecting Mr. Belafonte to the university through his friendship with King.

“On a personal note, I find Mr. Belafonte to be truly an inspiration,” Schooley said.

The audience rose to its feet, applauding, as Belafonte walked to the podium to begin his lecture.

“I would hope to be such a powerful figure as Belafonte is,” James Berck III, freshman in computer science, said.

Belafonte started his address with a humorous story about being unrecognized in a Madagascar record store, eliciting laughs from the crowd.

He then shifted to the darker subject: reckless imprisonment in the United States. He told the audience about a 5-year-old girl who had been manhandled by three policeman, thrown across a vehicle and handcuffed.

The girl had been arrested and was charged with “being unruly.” Belafonte expressed that too often, children under the age of 10 being put into the system,
and noted the fact that America has the largest prison system population, a majority of which are people of color.

Belafonte also spoke on his relationship with King, reminiscing about the last time he saw him in Tennessee. He remembered that King was worried because he had spoken to some younger boys who were talking about burning the city down. He tried to talk the boys out of their acts, but was unsuccessful and felt very responsible for it.

Belafonte concluded the evening with his thoughts on African American culture. He noted how self-destructive the culture has become, and how the younger generation should strive to maintain the victories that came from struggles that his generation went through and fought for.

At the end of his speech, Belafonte was presented with the BSU’s Stacy Hall Humanitarian Award. The award had the symbol Sankofa, a symbol of a bird reaching for an egg on its back. The meaning of the symbol, “It is never wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten,” has significance in the African American community.

“This gave great insight on what race is and how we can do better on accepting each other for how we are,” Blake Correll, freshman in open option, said.