Actor LeVar Burton, who made his name as Kunta Kinte in the 1977 miniseries Roots and, later, as Geordi La Forge in the long-running TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation, is now being praised for being mentioned to takeover as host of the long-running game show, Jeopardy!
Some old fans of Burton may remember, but new fans don’t know that he was also a big-hearted visionary with a huge idea: getting kids interested in reading more to accomplish their dreams and be great. With that simple idea he started the show called Reading Rainbow in the 1980s, which was a hit amongst children and adults. It ran on air from June 6, 1983, to November 10, 2006, with a total of 155 half-hour episodes spanning over 21 seasons, making it the longest running show on the network. The show encouraged children to read.
The public television series garnered over 200 broadcast awards, including a Peabody Award and 26 Emmy Awards, 11 of which were in the “Outstanding Children’s Series” category.
“It was a simple idea: use TV to introduce the wonders to be found in a book,” says the 60-year-old Burton. “The pace was slow by today’s standards. As the host, I tried to talk to my audience, not at them, and to share my enthusiasm for life and the written word. And we had a catchy theme song! ‘Take a look, it’s in a book’; ‘Go anywhere, be anything’—that’s a valuable message.”
The theme song of the show was sung by non other than Chaka Khan. Take a look at the video below:
To actually tell children–Black and brown children that they can be “anything”–anything that they want to be and go anywhere just by reading a book is a powerful message by any measurement. Burton was trying to start a revolution of changing minds through reading.
Three years after the show went off air, in 2009–a time when 66 percent of American fourth graders aren’t proficient in reading (source: 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP))–the need for literacy-building programs was undeniable. And Burton had the idea of bringing the show back, but updated for the digital generation. Lacking in funds and with the encouragement of his 19-year-old daughter, Burton started a online fundraiser on Kickstarter.com.
On the fundraising page, it said, Kickstarter funds will be used to develop two subscription-based versions of a Reading Rainbow website: a home edition for kids and families, and a classroom version for teachers with accompanying lesson plans. Using the money they’ve raised, they’ll also donate free subscriptions to at least 1,500 classrooms with students from disadvantaged backgrounds; if they hit the $5 million mark, they’ll give away 6,000 more. And that’s just the beginning.
And hit that mark they did. The Reading Rainbow kickstarter raked in $5,408,916 from 105,857 backers. So, in 2012, an iPad and Kindle Fire educational interactive book reading and video field trip application was launched bearing the name of the program.
Burton’s love for reading started when he was just a young boy.
“I was 4 or 5, sitting next to my aunt, reading, and I got stuck on the word pretty. I wouldn’t say it; I didn’t want to be wrong. So I sat there. My aunt was very patient, but finally, she said, ‘The word is pretty.’ I knew I was right in my mind and my heart. I just didn’t have the courage to say it.”
One of LaVar’s favorite books is, Amazing Grace, by Mary Hoffman.
“It’s the story of a girl who wants to play Peter Pan in her school play,” explains Burton. “But is told by her classmates that she can’t because she’s a girl and she’s black. It’s Grace’s story of believing in herself and learning that she can be anything she wants using the power of her imagination.”
Source & Credit: blackdoctor.org