Keith Center for Civil Rights Center's grand opening set

Belafonte to deliver lecture

By Jo Mathis

Legal News

Singer/social activist Harry Belafonte says he's disappointed in Barack Obama, who has failed to deliver on the promises he made during his campaign.

''He's missed the mark,'' said Belafonte.

Belafonte, 84, was speaking at a press conference last week a few hours before he delivered the fifth Keith Biennial Lecture at the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University Law School.

The event was the kickoff to fall events and festivities culminating with the Oct. 19 grand opening ceremony of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights.

Belafonte, an outspoken civil and social activist for decades, said he once asked himself one question: ''What do I do with this much popularity? Make more money? Or more mischief?''

Belafonte went with mischief, which is what he calls his tendency to speak with no holds barred.

Had Bobby Kennedy not been killed in 1968, Belafonte is convinced he would have been elected president. As a result, he said, the entire global picture on every level would have been better than it is now.

''It would have been a far more joyous place than what we've come to now,'' he said.

Asked how to get college students socially active again, Belafonte said it's unfair to expect young people today to have that same intensity because the issues have changed.

There is no longer blatant discrimination -- complete with signs banning blacks from entrance.

He said America has been reaping the rewards of the post-civil rights confrontation era, but times have become hard once again.

Belafonte lamented the changes he's seen in Detroit over the decades.

When he first visited the city years ago, he said, ''everything was humming.'' Factories were doing well, and people's attitudes were upbeat.

Now, he senses ''the silence of oppression,'' an absence of laughter similar to that in cities throughout the Midwest.

''Those of us who have a platform, and authority to instruct, have a responsibility to see that history isn't lost to the younger generation,'' he said, noting that while the KKK may no longer be active, similar but subverted sentiment comes through groups such as the tea party.

The Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights, made possible through gifts from individuals, corporations and foundations, will allow that work to continue at Wayne Law. The center will help the Law School attract and retain outstanding students, support and strengthen its faculty, enhance programming, and promote civil rights in one of the most culturally rich and diverse cities in the United States. Ground was broken for the building on May 17, 2010, and the grand opening celebration is scheduled for Oct. 19.

Published: Thu, Sep 22, 2011


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