An Original DREAMer

April 25, 2023- Back before the DREAM Act, before Mexicans desperate for a better life began arriving in this country en masse, there were Harold and Melvine Bellafanti, and their son, Harold, Jr., coming from Jamaica, and living quietly in an undocumented fashion. The Bellafantis only wanted to lift themselves up through hard work. Harold was a chef, and Melvine, a housekeeper. The three found housing where they could, with young Harry spending eight years with a grandmother in Kingston, where he attended the well-regarded Wolmer’s Preparatory Academy, before returning to New York for his high school study. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

Then came his introduction to theater, where, with his friend Sidney Poitier, he would purchase a single ticket, trading off with Sidney so that each of them would watch an act, then trade off the seat, after filling in the other about what he’d seen and heard. He took acting classes with The New School, alongside a who’s who of up and coming actors, including Marlon Brando and Tony Curtis. Paying for those classes involved singing with Charlie Parker’s band; then, as a folk singer, on his own. His “Banana Boat Song” was one of the first tunes I remember hearing in the 1950s.

Harry became concerned with the conditions in which his fellow Blacks lived. Although a biracial person (both his parents were half-White), Harry Belafonte experienced his share of bigotry, yet refused to let that lead to shutting Whites out from the social dialogue. He became friends with Frank Sinatra, and through Ol’ Blue Eyes and other Rat Pack members, he came to know John F. Kennedy. Harry was an advisor to the Peace Corps, while also becoming close to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and increasingly involving himself in the Civil Rights movement.

Harry Belafonte never ceased his work in advancing social justice, while also continuously networking to bring political conservatives along in the process. One of his friends was the fiercely progressive Marlon Brando; another, the equally fierce conservative, Charlton Heston. Brando admired Harry’s feistiness and Heston, his work ethic. Harry’s only concern was social justice. In that vein, he left out no one, even befriending Fidel Castro, who he brought around to liking hip hop. He was reportedly not shy about admonishing Castro to let up on his more repressive policies, though how successful that effort was is open to question. He also furiously opposed both Islamism and the Bush Administration’s actions in Iraq and Afghanistan-as well as many of the policies espoused by Bill and Hillary Clinton, the latter becoming his bitter enemy, due to his reaching out to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and opposing the invasion of Iraq.

Harry Belafonte was married to three different women, during the course of his life. His one true love, though, was justice. The polymath, patriot and artist Harold Bellafanti, Jr. deserves the gratitude of all, regardless of any differences one may have with his political sentiments. May he rest in power.

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