LeVar Burton Changes Lives, One Book at a Time

This is the fifth entry in the series Honoring Black History.

Growing up, I was a casual viewer of the various Star Trek series, but was never a huge fan. Sure, I had a passing familiarity with LeVar Burton’s character, Geordi La Forge, on Star Trek: The Next Generation, but to me he will always be the host of Reading Rainbow. And I’m no alone. Millions of late GenX-ers (like me) and young Millennials grew up watching and learning from his PBS show.

It’s hard to believe, but Reading Rainbow was on the air for a whopping 23 seasons, winning (quite literally) hundreds of awards for making reading exciting and fun. The show was life-changing for many kids. Perhaps the most endearing and emotional account of the impact Reading Rainbow has had in someone’s life came in the “Kunta Thinks You’re Funny” episode of the Nod.1 In that episode, producer Wallace Mack, Jr. got to share his story with LeVar:

To have you—this kind, attentive, black male figure—on TV every day, reading to me… That was important to me. For a lot of younger kids and younger black guys, I think a lot of us share this need to feel that our parents are proud of us and that we are the kind of kids that our parents want. I think especially for sons to fathers, you always want to feel like you are the ultimate son for your dad. When I was younger, I didn’t necessarily feel that way with my dad.

I always knew I was different. We just grew up really different; we were different kinds of guys. We went to the same high school. He was the star football player at my high school. He was an army guy. And when I came around it was like Ah, what can we get you involved in? Let’s try basketball. Let’s try football. And none of those things really worked out for me. I always felt a little soft to him.

But I’d get the chance to see you on TV every day. You’re a different man. You’re standing there smiling and reading and really affirming that the things I cared about as a kid were okay. And not only were you reading to us, but you were opening up our world view.

LeVar Burton has done tons of other notable things during his career, but his literacy work and advocacy is inspiring. He has had an undeniably positive impact on several generations of Americans at this point and he is a great role model for young black men everywhere. I’m excited to see the role LeVar Burton plays in Oscar’s life.

  1. LeVar Burton played Kunta Kinte in the TV version of Roots 




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