On March 1, 1927, famed musician, actor and social activist Harold George Belafonte, Jr. was born in Harlem, NY. Throughout his long life, he has remained a key figure in entertainment, known for popular hits in the folk music industry and for popularizing Caribbean calypso music in the 1950s. He has also starred in several films and performances across the silver screen, television and Broadway, winning numerous awards. In fact, he is one of the few people to achieve EGOT status by winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award.
Yet, Belafonte might be most well known historically as an activist, fighting for civil rights and social justice throughout his career. He was a friend and confidante of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a prominent force in ending both South Africa’s oppressive apartheid regime, as well as the release of his friend, Nelson Mandela.
Because of Belefonte’s work and accomplishments, numerous public figures joined together on February 28, 2021 to host a virtual celebration in honor of his 94th birthday. Known as “The Gathering for Harry,” the surprise party occurred the evening before his birthday. It was sponsored by Frontline Solutions, the National Basketball Player Association Foundation, PVH Corp. and the Hope and Robert F. Smith Family. Attendees included entertainers and political figures, including Jay-Z, Usher, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Carmen Perez-Jordan, Susan Sarandon, Danny Glover, Bernie and Jane Sanders, Stacey Abrams and Rev. Al Sharpton. During the event, Belafonte’s family members, friends and other guests honored his legacy with live performances, video tributes and testimonials. Artist Jay-Z also accepted The Gatekeeper of Truth Award for his support to organizers on the frontlines.
The Gathering for Justice
The birthday spectacular was not only held to honor Belafonte on his 94th birthday. It also provided the additional benefit of raising awareness and support for the organization The Gathering for Justice. The Gathering for Justice was founded by Belafonte after seeing a news report about a 5-year-old African American girl being handcuffed and arrested in her Florida classroom for “being unruly.” Since its founding in 2005, The Gathering for Justice has been building a movement to end child incarceration and eliminate the racial inequalities that permeate the justice system. Recently, The Gathering for Justice collaborated on the #FreeMeekMill campaign, local movement-building in Wisconsin and the 40,000+ person March for Stolen Lives & Looted Dreams. In the wake of the surprise virtual birthday party, approximately $174,000 was raised for The Gathering for Justice to aid its future efforts.
Robert F. Smith Furthers Belafonte’s Mission With REFORM Alliance
Philanthropist and entrepreneur Robert F. Smith has a connection with Harry Belafonte that extends further than being one of the sponsors of his birthday extravaganza. Smith’s fight for equality also dates back to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. When he was a young child, his mother took him to the March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.
Furthermore, Smith is committed to transforming ideas of incarceration and the justice system. He is a founding partner of REFORM Alliance, alongside Carmen Perez-Jordan and Jay-Z, who also attended “The Gathering for Harry.”
Like The Gathering for Justice, REFORM Alliance aims to rework the social justice system. The organization’s mission is to transform our system of probation and parole by changing laws, systems and culture, which would create real pathways to work and wellbeing. Instead of keeping those who have been incarcerated trapped in a revolving door from prison to probation/parole, then back to prison, the organization is working to move people from the justice system into stable futures in their communities.
REFORM Alliance’s inception stems from the #FreeMeekMill movement, something that The Gathering for Justice was also involved in. In fact, recording artist Meek Mill is Co-Chair on the Board of directors of REFORM Alliance. As of late, REFORM Alliance has been able to provide educational resources on the justice system, deliver masks and personal protective equipment to six million people living and working behind bars and orchestrate legislation that would cap probation and parole terms at 1-2 years for most offenses in numerous states across the county.
Learn more about the efforts of Belafonte’s sponsored charity The Gathering For Justice, as well as REFORM Alliance.