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Belafonte Issues Challenge to Local Lawyers

Reflecting on words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., singer and activist Harry Belafonte looked across a sea of lawyers, judges and politicians gathered in a Greenbelt ballroom Thursday night and said, "In our struggle for integration, we have integrated into a burning house."

Belafonte used his speech at the 30th anniversary celebration of the J. Franklyn Bourne Bar Association of African-American lawyers in Prince George's and Montgomery counties to offer a blistering challenge.

"In your daily lives. you make decisions that affect the lives of the people who come before you," Belafonte said. "But if you look a little deeper in your work, what kind of difference have you really made, when you take a look at what you have impacted on the American community, on the black community?

"Never before have I been before so many rich black people than who sit here now. Never before I have met so many achievers in all walks of life, but yet at the same time we have the largest prison population in the whole world and as a matter of public policy we are building more prisons, we have more cells than we have school rooms.

"What are we telling our young generations to come? We can't give you an afterschool program, we can't give you this, we can't give you that, but we can give you 25 to life."

Even before Belafonte's speech, that message was on the mind of Prince George's Circuit Judge Herman C. Dawson, one of the attendees.

"We can't have 9 out of 10 young men coming through juvenile court and not getting out of the ninth grade," Dawson said after the speech. "We want to call a meeting of all the clergy to address the issue of how we are losing so many young brothers in the community."

Said Belafonte, "We have integrated into a burning house and we have to just become firemen. I think that America is worth saving. I really do."

-- Hamil R. Harris

By Anne Bartlett  |  November 2, 2007; 3:46 PM ET
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Who really cares what this bitter, senile old man has to say? This is the same guy that recently went to Venezuela to talk trash about America as part of a propaganda stunt for Hugo Chavez, then hops on the next flight back to his home in Beverly Hills. I don't recall him questioning Chavez about how many of his opposition leaders he's had silenced and put in jail.

Posted by: BG from PG | November 2, 2007 5:40 PM | Report abuse

You should really know what you are talking about before you call someone a bitter, senile man, actually you sound rather angry yourself. Mr. Belafonte spends his life and money to promote justice for all people - and since you only heard the american press version of his trip with Mr.Chavez please do not pretend to say you know what they talked about. By the way Mr. Belafonte lives a regular life like the rest of us and not in Beverly Hills. Don't be so narrow minded - take off the blinders the American press puts on us and read world news.

Posted by: LN | November 3, 2007 12:16 PM | Report abuse

I thought I would be polite to Mr. Belafonte by giving him the benefit of the doubt that he may have senile demensia. Yes, I am bitter and it doesn't really matter whose version you listen to, the fact is that he referred to America as the "greatest terrorist of all" to a foreign audience. I could be wrong about Beverly Hills-I think it's more like Upper West Side Manhatten (not a big difference). Regardless, he still comes right back to enjoy the freedoms of the country that he apparently despises.

Posted by: BG from PG | November 3, 2007 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Where is the substance in our public discourse? When did it become acceptable to attack people, instead of ideas? It's the Jerry Springerization of our country and it's very sad. Respect your elders, and respectfully disagree with ideas. It's that simple.

Posted by: DB | November 5, 2007 4:32 PM | Report abuse

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