Today, one of my very favorite people in pop culture, LeVar Burton, is 63 years old!
Growing up, LeVar Burton was a part of my life. Reading Rainbow, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Planet, and Roots were all deeply imbedded in my experience of pop culture as a child and taught me lessons that I carry with me to this day. LeVar Burton is legitimately one of my heroes. His dedication to education, literacy, awareness, justice… he is a brilliant human being.
To celebrate his magnificent awesomeness, here are four of my favorite facts about LeVar Burton that are not directly related to his iconic roles.
Raised as a Roman Catholic, LeVar Burton had initially planned to become a priest. In fact, at thirteen, he enrolled in a prep seminary, St. Pius X Minor Seminary in Galt, California. He graduated after finishing his coursework—coursework that led him to question some of the tenants of the Catholic Church’s teachings and place his career goals elsewhere—and went on to University of Southern California on a drama scholarship in 1974. Interestingly, three years after Burton graduated, the Seminary closed and was later converted into the Richard A. McGee Correctional Training Center, a training facility for correctional officers. That facility just jumped from one panopticon to another.
We are currently living in the year in which LeVar Burton’s science fiction novel is set. Published in 1997, Aftermath is set in 2019, in a United States torn apart by racial inequities, economic depression, a catastrophic earthquake, and the assassination of a Black President-elect. In this story, Black people are kidnapped and forced into “donating” body parts. While it is not his most celebrated achievement, it did explore some serious themes, the exploration of which remains timely.
In response to the seeming avalanche of tragic headlines, particularly around shootings involving shootings, LeVar Burton wrote The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, a story that deals with loss and grief and how community can help us move through the anger and fear we all experience in the midst of tragedy. Mica Mouse, whose dad comforts her by reading the story to her, is named for Burton’s daughter.
LeVar Burton has been serving on the board of the AIDS Research Alliance of America since 2012 and often acts as the organization’s spokesperson. The ARA focuses their resources on searching for a cure for AIDS, rather than focusing only on treatment, which is the focus of many other AIDS research organizations. In an interview about his joined the ARA board, Burton spoke about his gravitation toward educational projects and his statement is basically exactly why I admire him so much:
“It doesn’t make sense to not use the celebrity to a good end. I’ve believed for a long time that this communications grid that we have blanketed the planet with is, without question, the most powerful tool ever created for social growth and change. We are a global village, and to not use the opportunity to speak out for that which is right doesn’t make sense to me. I was raised in a family where one’s life was supposed to be about giving back. It’s a part of my upbringing.”
Happy Birthday, LeVar! You are an amazing human and we are so happy you were born! Thank you for sharing your you-ness with the world—we are far better for it!