LeVar Burton spreads words of wisdom through Tulane community

Ashley Easterly, Senior Reporter

Tulane University Campus Programming hosted renowned actor and activist LeVar Burton for a lecture Monday in McAlister Auditorium.

The Arcade sat down with LeVar Burton before his lecture Monday night to discuss his lengthy acting career and more recent role in revolutionizing educational reform by transforming the landmark PBS program, ”Reading Rainbow,” a show aimed to share a love of reading with children across the nation.

For more than two decades, Burton hosted and produced ”Reading Rainbow.” After cancelation in 2009, Burton and his co-producers reimagined ”Reading Rainbow” for a modern audience, transforming the materials of the show into an application developed for the iPad and the Kindle Fire.

“If you want to reach kids today, you must be in the digital realm,” Burton said.

Earlier this summer, Burton and the ”Reading Rainbow” team launched a Kickstarter campaign to further develop the app to “bring ‘Reading Rainbow’s’ library of interactive books and video field trips to more platforms and provide free access to classrooms in need.” The initial goal of the Kickstarter was to reach $1 million in donations. The campaign met the goal in only 11 hours. By the end of its run, the Kickstarter exceeded its target five times over.

“The generation of adults now who grew up on ‘Reading Rainbow’ went into their pockets and wanted to make sure that ‘Reading Rainbow’ was there for succeeding generations,” Burton said. “I think it was a situation where nostalgia met altruism. It was a perfect storm.”

On ”Reading Rainbow,” Burton inspired multiple generations of children, steering them towards literacy and the written word and instilling in them not just the ability to read, but a love for reading. Burton has devoted much of his life to the cause of education and particularly educational reform.

“My pathway has been very long and circuitous,” Burton said. “I believe that everybody has their own gift. I feel like I’m lucky in that I was able to identify at least a pathway that led me to what my contribution was supposed to be early on.”

Burton began studying for priesthood at the age of 13, but at 18 decided it was not for him and instead chose to attend the University of Southern California to pursue acting. Shortly after beginning school, he was cast in his first role as Kunta Kinte on “Roots” in 1977.

“I wanted to be an actor, I wanted to be a successful actor,” Burton said. “I feel like I have grown into a journeyman’s storyteller.”

Today, Burton appears in guest roles on a number of programs, most notably on “Community” and “The Big Bang Theory,” appearing as himself.

“It’s fun to be at that stage of my career where they’re asking me to be me,” Burton said. “I think that says a lot about the longevity [and] diversity of my career and the impact that I’ve had.”

Burton said he does not see much of a difference between portraying a character and portraying himself.

“I like to believe that in everything I’ve done, I’ve been able to reveal a part of who I am,” Burton said. “When I create a character, I begin with that, which I have in common with that character.”

Burton certainly commits himself fully to all of his work. He is especially passionate about educational reform. With the Kickstarter campaign for “Reading Rainbow,” his team employed the use of social media to fundraise.

“I’m a big fan of the power of the people, and social media is a wonderful way to harness that power … to tap into it, to put it to good use,” Burton said. “This is a mechanism by which the people can regain control of their inalienable right to choose their own destiny.”

Burton said he believes this generation can make a difference in anything and everything with the right mindset, no matter how small or large that difference is.

“Find your path, and walk it,” Burton said. “Know that the steps that you’re taking today may not pay off tomorrow, or the day after, but if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, and sooner or later you will look up and you will have succeeded in a very significant way.”

Leave a comment