LeVar Burton has been blessed by four story-telling mentors in his life.
The first was his mother, Erma Jean Christian. “I am the man that I am because my mother is the woman that she is.” LeVar said his mother was determined to see that he reached his full potential in life, “even if she had to kill me.” He said, “My mother taught me that there are no limits to what I could accomplish in life except those I, myself, impose.” The story his mother told him is that his journey in life would not be easy. He would face persecution and injustice, just for the color of his skin. The story she told him, which he embraced, was that he was capable of triumphing over adversity and that he had the right to determine his destiny for himself.
Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, was an amazing storyteller and visionary. At a time when television rarely had characters who “looked like me,” Gene envisioned a future in which there was “a place for me.” Reading in general and science fiction in particular teaches us to be able to imagine. Our ability to imagine a better future is our superpower, LeVar said. There is a link between what we can imagine and what we can create. Through stories, we create a world that reflects who we are.
Alex Haley, author of Roots, had a tremendous impact on LeVar and on all of America. After Alex had told the story of his enslaved ancestors, it was impossible to ignore what had been done to an entire segment of our society. Said LeVar, “All of us truly stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. Those willing to sacrifice and sweat and shed blood and even give that ultimate measure to ensure that their children and their children’s children might live in a world that values an individual not as a commodity to be bought and sold for labor, but as an accepted child of the Creator and worthy of the dignity and respect deserving of any human being.”
Fred Rogers, of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, was at a prestigious meeting at the White House. Fred asked everyone to close their eyes and think for one minute about a person who saw your full potential. LeVar did the same with us. Before the 60 seconds were up I was crying. It was a remarkable exercise. None of us make it through life on our own, LeVar told us. “We all need and have assistance on this journey.”
Following his remarks, Thom Reed of FamilySearch joined LeVar onstage and presented him a genealogy book that FamilySearch had prepared for him. LeVar was deeply touched. It was a remarkable, remarkable moment, one never to be forgotten. The entire session was, perhaps, the most memorable of all RootsTech history.