Emmy winner LeVar Burton discusses the power of imagination and the promise of creating a better educated and more inclusive world

Courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Flickr

This past week, UCR wrapped up their Living The Promise campaign and met their goal of raising $300 million to help students, faculty and staff by supporting students’ research endeavours, funding different campus operations, supporting different university programs and more. UCR kicked off the Living The Promise campaign four years ago. The main goal of the campaign was to raise money to further advance the programs and opportunities that UCR offers. 

The celebration concluded on Thursday, Feb. 18 with “Future Perfect: A Conversation With LeVar Burton,” a virtual event. Burton is a distinguished actor, director, producer and Emmy award winner. His event focused on the power of imagination and the importance of creating an educated and more comprehensive world. The event was open to students, faculty and community members and seemed to be well received by all. The night started off with a message from Chancellor Wilcox as he introduced Burton and the host of the evening, Nalo Hopkinson, UCR creative writing professor and award winning author.

Burton is most known from his role as host of the PBS show “Reading Rainbow,” but others may recognize him as playing the role of Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and Kunta Kinte in the ABC miniseries “Roots.” 

Throughout the event, Burton explained where he gets most of his creative inspiration from and his journey to becoming a successful member of the production industry. Burton emphasized that he got most of his inspiration from his mother, Erma Jean Burton, who was an elementary school teacher. He stated, “Everything that I do is because of that woman.” Select students were able to ask Burton direct questions, and he spent time encouraging them to explore and use their imagination to create change in this world. 

Many of the questions that students had for him stemmed around Burton’s role as host of “Reading Rainbow,” and he emphasized that his passion for children and reading originated from growing up around his mother and the other educators throughout his life. When he took on the role as host for the hit show, the goal was to continue to educate students between the summer months and the start of the fall school year. Although the education community was skeptical of the show’s effectiveness when it first aired, “Reading Rainbow” continued on for 26 years of production and became the fuel for many children’s love for reading.

While talking about some of his other accomplishments, Burton gave credit to other influential people in his life that helped guide him throughout his time in the entertainment industry. Fred Rogers, Alex Haley, Gene Roddenberry and the late Cicely Tyson all played important roles in Burton’s career. They each gave him words of encouragement and advice that have shaped him into the person he is today. Some of the advice that he shared with attendees included staying authentic throughout their endeavors and remembering that their own heroes in life are human, which means that they can do anything that we put our minds to. He also stressed the importance of finding your own unique voice.

Due to Burton’s contributions to the “Star Trek” series, he was also asked many questions about the science fiction genre and how the stories that unfold in sci-fi novels and movies play an integral role in our ever-changing society. His response was that science fiction shapes the future and that he believes “Star Trek” has played an important role in creating the inventions that we have today.

He encouraged students to use their imagination because “our imagination is a trigger for manifestation,” a key takeaway for the night.

He ended the night speaking directly to students interested in creative writing and stated that they are living in a “democratization of content creation,” meaning that almost all students have access to the tools needed to tell stories. All of the technological advancements that have been made over the past 10 to 20 years allows each of us to share our stories and let our voices be heard.

As a final push to motivate students to use the resources available to create and share stories, Burton said, “You no longer have to ask for permission, just freaking do it.”

If you missed the event and would like to watch it at a different time, the lecture was recorded and posted on YouTube

 

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