People who read, says LeVar Burton, are life-long learners, and life-long learners are dangerous people. This is how the beloved star of Roots, Reading Rainbow, and Star Trek: The Next Generation framed his Distinguished Lecture Series talk about the power of storytelling at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Union’s Wisconsin Room on February 24th, 2016.
Addressing a full-house of fans, educators, Black History month followers, and proud participants of #GeekWeek at UWM, Burton gave a presentation that was both inspirational and thought-provoking. He honored his mother by telling the audience the story of how she, as a single mother, was an avid reader who made sure her son knew and understood that he, as anybody else, had the right to achieve his full potential. As a related matter, he addressed race and prejudice and why he admired the work of Gene Roddenberry and the sociological possibilities illustrated in Star Trek. Since the original series, people of different races are not merely included but also integrated as core characters. Burton added that seeing one’s race or ethnicity represented in the media–a topic more and more people are dialoguing about–is crucial for self-esteem.
Regarding the topic of reading, Burton does not favor a specific medium but rather the content. As he explained, whether a print book or an e-book, what matter is that the child (the person) is reading. He unabashedly adds the arts (A) and reading (R) into the push for a STEM education, insisting–and rightfully so–that we need the arts for STEAM as they are pivotal in developing important cognitive functions. Moreover, he could not stress more the importance of reading and how STREAM would provide an integrated foundation for a well-rounded education. Burton elaborated on how reading piques the imagination and it is through the imagination–like with the device Captain Kirk used in the original series to call Scotty to request a beam up–that the sciences and everything else come to be. We adapt to the new technologies, which is necessary. But, what is it that we are teaching, is the question Burton highlighted several times during his talk. All media is educational, says Burton.
The audience was absolutely captivated by Burton’s humble brilliance. We all erupted into applause from time to time, celebrating the deep humanity his words were conveying. The Q&A portion confirmed how much his TV roles, especially Reading Rainbow, have touched and inspired so many people.
And in closing, with a message of love over fear, LeVar Burton left us with a grand exhortation: “Please be bold in your pursuit of being a dangerous person.”