By Doshon Farad
At nearly ninety-years old, performer and activist Harry Belafonte is still in the fight to end injustice. On Monday, the Gathering for Justice-an organization that he founded in 2005 celebrated its Tenth
Anniversary in Harlem, N.Y. at the world famous Apollo Theater.
The “Justice Ball” fundraiser as it was titled was not only held in honor of the organization’s founding but to also pay homage to Belafonte and others who have made their marks in the arena of social justice and activism.
This very lively and musical event that was emceed by TV ONE host Roland Martin was attended by many dignitaries and also featured several lyrical and spoken word performances, awards presentations, as well as several video tributes to Mr. Belafonte and other activists.
Since its founding a decade ago, the New York based Gathering for Justice (“The Gathering”) has become a major voice in the fight for equality in America. It has championed the causes of such famous cases as the shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Remarley Graham, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray among many others.
And in April, its Justice League-NYC division led the 250 mile “March 2 Justice” from New York City to Washington, D.C. to protest the recent police related deaths of Black men across the United States.
It has also fought for legislation to reform the Criminal Justice System, end racial profiling, as well as to combat the overwhelming mass incarceration of African-Americans and Latinos.
Executive Director of The Gathering, Carmen Perez expressed her enthusiasm for the organization’s growth and progress as well as reminded attendees of its purpose. “When we first began, our agenda was to have an agenda. And ten years later we stand here before you with one. Our work in criminal justice reform has expanded into work for racial equality and system accountability. We work to uplift the voices of those who can’t be here because they are victims of an oppressive society.”
Members of the “Central Park 5” and “New Jersey 4” were also honored and addressed attendees for a few minutes expressing gratitude to everyone who fought for them during their infamous ordeals.
Although Monday night’s theme centered around social justice, the event couldn’t help but to focus on Belafonte whose career in entertainment and activism has spanned nearly seven decades.
A representative of New York Governor Andrew Coumo’s office presented him with a state citation honoring the icon.
Hip Hop artist Jasiri X who performed during the ball spoke with Your Black World briefly about Belafonte’s influence on his life. “For me it’s personal. Mr. Belafonte took me as a younger man around the country and gave me a universal view of justice I had never seen. He really showed me what an artist/activist was really about. What better mentor could I have than arguably that greatest artist/activist of all time?”
Hip Hop artist Immortal Technique also performed and electrified the crowd with one of his signature revolutionary songs.
During a tearful tribute and an award presentation to his idol, actor Wendell Pierce said, “You are my personal hero. Mr. Belafonte, I am honored to honor you. Of all the men and women who gave me the courage to stand here today, you stand tall and above them. You showed me in your life and in your actions as a man and as an artist that can’t died three days before the creation of the world so don’t ever tell me you can’t do anything.”
At the end of the night Belafonte addressed his many admirers.
“You know the number of times that I’ve stood in public space to acknowledge the anointing, it never happens without me challenging why folks went through all of this to make a moment like this happen. For me it’s more than just a fundraiser or an anointing. It is the validation that comes with it. Not just that which strokes the ego or swells the pride.”
He also acknowledged the controversy surrounding his life’s work in activism.
“There is a price to be paid when you stand up against tyranny, oppression, and greed. And this price can sometimes be cruel. I’ve watched a great many men and women, many of who are mentors pay a
terrible price in the work of caring for other men and women.”