Harry Belafonte headlines evening for Chistian Community Action
She’s a social worker and minister, not an event planner. So how did the Rev. Bonita Grubbs land the great singer, actor and social activist Harry Belafonte for Christian Community Action’s fall fundraiser in CCA’s 50th anniversary year?
“What we talked about on the 50th anniversary committee was: What type of event would be of interest to us ... but also is an attempt to provide a message to people about where we are,” said Grubbs.
A booking agent told her, said Grubbs, “‘Oh, there’s this new person that we have ... to offer,’ (among) folks who want to do fundraising events. ... And so I was expecting Mr. Anonymous, and he said, ‘No, no, Harry Belafonte just signed on to our company.’ ”
The one-time “King of Calypso,” whose breakthrough single in 1956 contained the signature lyric “Day-O” that is still used as a cheer prompt in Yankee Stadium, wanted to offer his wisdom on current affairs after seven decades as an advocate for political and humanitarian causes. Belafonte, an Emmy-, Grammy- and Tony Award-winner, is 90.
That idea earned a quick “yes” from Grubbs, who leads CCA’s 16 full-timers and three part-timers in providing relief and other services to homeless, poor and hungry people in the New Haven area — with an emphasis on a person-centered approach that helps folks break out of poverty in a lasting way.
She said “...we think about where we are locally and as a country; what kinds of philosophical and social and, I might even argue, theological concerns (exist). Where are we? And (Martin Luther) King asks the question, ‘Where do we go from here —chaos or community?’ ”
Grubbs said with his history as an actor and activist, Belafonte can “help us think through what are some of the answers to that question.”
“A Conversation with Harry Belafonte” at the Shubert Theatre Wednesday, Oct. 18, will feature a wide-ranging discussion on issues for an entertainer who was also on the front lines of social justice struggles — from the Civil Rights Movement in the United States to anti-apartheid efforts in Africa. Daphne Brooks, Yale professor of African-American studies and theater studies, will moderate. While Belafonte won’t be singing, there will be music by St. Luke’s Steel Band.
In an interview with Connecticut Magazine recently, Belafonte (a critic of President George W. Bush for the Iraq War) pulled no punches, saying, “we are sitting here at the gateway of disaster with this administration.” He cited all the work done for civil rights in the 20th century and said the mood and violence of Charlottesville “would not have happened had Donald Trump not provoked the belief by many citizens that racism has a place in the culture of this nation.
“It’s fascinating. The threat to democracy is no longer some totalitarian state in some faraway place smothering its citizens. America sits at the threshold of the new decline; whereas we were the hope for the future, we’re now the management of our own destruction. That’s not what this whole journey, from my perspective, was about,” Belafonte said.
Belafonte will also take the audience behind the scenes of his career in films such as “Carmen Jones,” “Buck and the Preacher” and “Island in the Sun.”