LeVar Burton on fighting book bans: ‘The freedom to read is sacrosanct’


Don’t tell Ron DeSantis, but the first week of October is Banned Books Week. This year LeVar Burton — former host of Reading Rainbow, should’ve-been host of Jeopardy, current host of charismatic eyes I get lost in — is an Honorary Chair. It’s fitting given his 21 years teaching kids the joy of reading on PBS’ Reading Rainbow, and his current partnership with MoveOn on the Artists Against Book Bans campaign. Hundreds of celebrities have signed an open letter condemning the draconian book bans being pushed by far-right Republican lawmakers. The letter is open for the public to sign too, and as of this writing the campaign has obtained 55,387 signatures of the 75,000 they are seeking. LeVar Burton sat down with Yahoo! Entertainment to promote his work with MoveOn and to raise awareness for this week’s Banned Books Week:

Having been at the forefront of promoting literacy and a love for reading with Reading Rainbow, how do you reconcile the lessons from that era with today’s challenges of book bans?

I feel that the gift of literacy is sacred. My involvement in this issue stems certainly from my love of the written word, as well as my belief that every child deserves to be literate in at least one language. These efforts to ban books challenge the sanctity of that connection between human beings and the written word. These efforts are misguided, ill informed and must be overcome. My personal journey has always had advocacy as a part of it — whether it’s civil rights issues or early childhood literacy. One must advocate for that which they believe in. But sometimes in life we have to fight for our rights to be honored, observed and upheld. This is one of those times. And my commitment to this fight has only strengthened given the current climate.

As someone who’s interacted with both the literary and cinematic worlds, do you believe art can be a catalyst for societal change and healing?

The purpose of art and artistic endeavor has always been to assist in moving culture forward. In today’s world, artists continue to play a significant role in instigating change. And because of the influence of the world of artistic endeavor, the dynamics of art and social change are inextricably linked. As an example, the 1977 miniseries Roots brought about a new awareness in terms of the real horrors of the institution of chattel slavery as practiced in America. The history books in our schools fell far short in communicating the real story of slavery’s impact.

What’s your vision for the future of this movement?

Any campaign like this is designed to shine a light on the problem. My hope is that the support we have garnered can serve to inspire others to join both the conversation and the cause. We all have a stake in this issue. The freedom to read is sacrosanct. In order to be a healthy society, we must be able to entertain ideas that can be challenging at times. The open discourse around challenging ideas is a fundamental tenet of democracy.

[From Yahoo! Entertainment]

Burton explains so well and to the point here (or I assume so, I really can’t stop staring into the depths of his inviting, comforting eyes). But if he thought textbooks in 1977 were inadequate on the realities of slavery, I’d advise him not to sign up for a course taught in Florida now. “The open discourse around challenging ideas is a fundamental tenet of democracy.” How would you even try getting this concept across to Ron DeSantis? I keep thinking of George Carlin (may he rest in peace) and his earth-shattering suggestion that if you encounter something — a book, a film, a radio show — that you do not like… then you don’t have to read it! Change the channel, pick a new book. The leap from “I don’t like this” to “no one should be reading this!” is egotistical, for sure, but it’s also dangerous.

Banned Books Week concludes on Saturday October 7 with Let Freedom Read Day, in which there’s a drive to get people to take at least one concrete step towards defending books against censorship. If you believe with LeVar Burton in the sanctity of literacy, then let freedom read.

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

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