Recently, my husband and I had the pleasure of hearing Harry Belafonte, Jr. (who will soon celebrate his 90th birthday) enthrall an audience at the Trayvon Martin Foundation’s Fourth Annual remembrance dinner in Miami, Florida, sponsored by Florida Memorial University and other stakeholders. The Trayvon Martin Foundation is located on the campus of Florida Memorial University.
Even though Mr. Belafonte informed the audience that he had recently experienced a stroke and that he was on medication that affected his memory, his nearly 30 minute, extemporaneous speech was still a phenomenal gift to us. Looking around the ballroom, I noted that the audience was lifted a bit higher by his audacious courage, by how he promoted social equity throughout his life with his talents, his inspiring work, and by his still ardent call for us to commit to positive social action, as our daily guide.
Mr. Belafonte, and many of those he interacted with (such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the Reverend Jessie Jackson and many others) are/were members of what is sometimes called the Silent Generation. When you look at the altruistic accomplishments, the courage, and the legacy of some members of this generation, they were anything but silent—they spoke eloquently through their deeds and built foundations for a stronger America.
However, each year we lose more of these trailblazers and, thus, we look to our college students and younger adults with hope that they will step forth and carry a torch of audacious hope to broaden and deepen our human connectivity through intellectual discourse and positive social action.
My husband and I feel fortunate to have been able to interact with some of the special humans in the Silent Generation such as the incomparable Dr. Maya Angelou, Pulitzer Prize poet Gwendolyn Brooks, humanitarian Harriet Fulbright, historian Dr. John Hope Franklin, activist and academic Angela Davis, Mayor Harold Washington, the Honorable Andrew Young, heroic Tuskegee Airmen, priest-activist Father George Clements, heavyweight champion and philanthropist Muhammad Ali, and many more inventors and innovators, teachers and scholars, scientists and statesmen.
Admittedly, many of members of the aforementioned and others in the Silent Generation lived controversial lives and colored outside of the lines. As time has demonstrated, these lines are temporary boundaries that continue to change with time, through intellectual realizations and the transcendence of the human spirit. And, of course, the Silent Generation Americans were only humans!
We have marveled that lives of courage, sacrifice, and concern for others seems to have transformed these mere humans into legends. Even as they are undoubtedly contemplating the conclusions of their earthly existences, these legends of the Silent Generation seem to stand tall, despite advanced age, and vigorously employ their lives’ wisdom to heighten awareness for today’s youth in order to inspire actions that will result in an even better America and more peaceful coexistence in our global community. They have shown us the power of lives lived with altruistic purposes, and now these stalwarts are demonstrating how to bow out with dignity and grace.
Listening to their life stories–replete with challenges, missteps, and victories–and seeing a world continuing to transform through their perspectives is a special gift to be held close to the heart and deeply treasured. Though these remarkable people who have illustrated the great potential of human lives might be a bit weathered by their journeys, their actions still serve as a clarion call for us to shake off our complacency, focus a little less on consuming, look up from our hand-held devices, and take more active roles in advancing the progress towards broader social justice, greater fairness, and respect for all lives among our global neighbors.
Holding these treasures, and the inspiring life stories of many others, close to our hearts—We thank you!