Peace. Five letters, when arranged the right way, can mean an end to oppression, an end to injustice, an end to suffering and war. Five letters, when arranged the right way, can affect every human being on this planet. Arranged here and now, these five letters mean the kickoff celebration of the Syracuse Peace Council’s 75th birthday. But we’re not just talking a party with cake and ice cream; we’re talking a sold-out happening featuring none other than Harry Belafonte.
Activist, singer, musician and actor Belafonte—the man known for introducing us to calypso music and fighting for civil rights alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—spoke at the SPC’s kickoff event for this important milestone year. Belafonte spoke to a capacity crowd of 499 at the Storch Theater at Syracuse Stage, 820 E. Genesee St., addressing topics ranging from meetings with King and Nelson Mandela to the current uprising in Egypt to his recent times at Sundance Film Festival, tying it all to one central message.
“What I’m trying to impact, activism is very, very alive in a lot of people—future leaders and even present leaders,” he said. “Those of you that are young enough, you don’t stand alone. Those of you old enough, you don’t stand alone.”
Belafonte held the attention of every member of the audience. Walking to the podium at center stage, Belafonte leaned only very slightly on a walking cane. “This used to be a golf club,” he joked. If Belafonte, all majestic six feet of him, performed a forward flip and landed with a wink, it would not have been surprising. At 83 years old, Belafonte’s presence filled the room; power and energy pulsed from the moment Belafonte took the stage to the very end when he gave the audience a peace sign and smile, leaving the stage to a standing ovation.
Belafonte talked of the process of fighting for peace. “It is a never-ending journey and never-ending involvement. We reach a pinnacle, and when we blink, the enemy has tenaciously begun to build new obstacles,” Belafonte said. “But what the enemy does not have in his plan is that we are endless.”
Tying modern issues, such as wars the United States is involved with and the situation in Egypt, to issues of the Vietnam era, Belafonte spoke of the main difference between then and now, the voices inside the war. “You hardly hear about Afghanistan, Iraq, other places in the world where we are engaged,” Belafonte noted. “The enemy found a way to navigate around the truth. But God has a sense of humor: He gave us the Internet.”
The talk imparted wisdom to residents who wish to make a difference. “What I would suggest for those of you who might feel any frustration, any sense of not moving forward. Maybe a lot of things we’re asking for are in a place where we’re not looking. Miracles are being revealed every day with people in oppression. We are active and alive. Be aware of that fact.”
Belafonte also talked of his recent time at Sundance Film Festival, promoting Susanne Rostock’s new documentary about Belafonte’s entertainment career and history of social activism, Sing Your Song, and his feeling about artists. “We are the keepers of truth. We are at the gates of knowledge,” Belafonte said. “Art is invincible.”
Before and after Belafonte’s talk, the audience welcomed to the stage different artists, musicians and members of the SPC. Oren Lyons, Onondaga Nation faithkeeper, was first to greet the crowd, thanking everyone for attending, and reminding them that with the 75th anniversary, the quest for peace goes on. Jack Brown, a musician, spoken-word artist and member of local band Sophistafunk, then recited a poem, moving around the stage to the rhythm and flow of the words. Local poet Jackie Warren-Moore read a poem addressed to Dr. King and introduced Belafonte.
The last performer was Colleen Kattau and Some Guys. The group played covers of Jolie Christine Rickman’s songs “Emma” and “Peace, Love and Nation,” asking the audience to sing along if they were familiar with the music, and dedicating the second song to the Peace Council. “Peace, love and nation, that’s what we are right?” Kattau asked the crowd. “This is just the kickoff. Just the beginning, right?” After the performances, SPC staffers Ursula Rozum and Andy Mager took the stage to thank the crowd and plug upcoming events. “There are many different ways to get peace,” said Rozum. “The work requires all of us to do what we can.” Some of those events include a Children’s Peace Workshop Training on Thursday, Feb. 10; a showing of The U.S. vs. John Lennon and discussion on Wednesday, Feb. 16; Onondaga Land Rights & Our Common Future Closing Celebration and Cultural Sharing on Monday, Feb. 22; and Strike for Peace Bowlathon on Sunday, Feb. 27.
The SPC is also bringing another wellknown speaker—Noam Chomsky—to Nottingham High School on Wednesday, May 11. For further information, visit www.peace council.net or call 472-5478.