LeVar Burton talks about the importance of literacy, imagination


Keynote speaker for the 24th annual Keeper of the Dream Award, LeVar Burton talks about the importance of literacy. Burton sees the issue of literacy as one of social justice and equality and believes that it is the most important thing that a person can have.

Award-winning actor, producer and director LeVar Burton was the keynote speaker at the Keeper of the Dream award ceremony on Monday.

Burton was the host of “Reading Rainbow,” an Emmy-winning children’s series on PBS that aired from 1983 to 2009, according to OU Communication and Marketing. He also played Kunta Kinte in the TV series “Roots,” and Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

Burton said that the choices he makes as an actor, director and writer show the importance of diversity.

“I strive to involve myself with projects that are more than just entertaining,” Burton said in an interview with WXOU. He said he hopes to inspire, educate and enlighten through his career.

The importance of diversity needs to be shared with the next generation, he said.

“It’s a message that continues to need to be driven home.”

Burton said that he sees himself as an elder – someone who will impart values and ethics to future leaders.

As an African American, Burton said he is no stranger to prejudice.

“My diversity hasn’t always been welcomed to the table,” he said. “I grew up in a world that was oftentimes hostile to my presence simply because of the color of my skin.”

“I like to consider that every breath I take is a reflection of my feelings about social justice and equality in this world,” he said, adding that he “can’t help but be an advocate.”

Burton sees the issue of literacy as one of social justice and equality, and believes that literacy is the most important thing that a person can have. He explained that no one can oppress those who can educate themselves. Reading allows people to find information for themselves and make their own judgements.

“I want children to read because I want children to reach their most full potential in life,” Burton said.

Literacy also allows for creativity and connects people to their imaginations, Burton said. While reading, people visualize the setting, characters, props and costumes.

“You’re making the movie in your head,” Burton said.

He added that no other animals have the capability to imagine something that is not in front of them.

“That is our super power as human beings.”

Burton’s work with “Reading Rainbow” shows his literary advocacy. According to the “Reading Rainbow” website, “Our mission is to instill the love of reading and learning in children.”

According to OU’s Communications and Marketing Department, Burton and Mark Wolfe co-founded RRKidz, Inc. in 2011. It allows digital access to more than 500 children’s books.

Burton has won 12 Emmy Awards, five NAACP Awards and a Grammy Award.