Roland Martin sat down with actor/activist Danny Glover for an exclusive interview and asked him what drives him to be an activist.
MR. MARTIN: I’m very curious to know, for you personally, what drives your activism? Because when I think of individuals who are in the arts, who are in the entertainment space, I look at Paul Robeson, I look at Harry Belafonte. When I interviewed Harry Belafonte, we talked about present-day activism among folks in the arts, and he was very frustrated with today’s generation. So, what drove you to say, “This is what I must use a lot of my time for”?
MR. GLOVER: Well, there were several things that I think were important. I came up at a very extraordinary moment, you know. I’d come through the Civil Rights Movement. I’m a child of the Civil Rights Movement. The Black Power Movement was a part of my own upbringing and acculturation. So, I’ve watched this in a sense.
It doesn’t mean that, all of a sudden, I assumed something that becomes a part of my life; but when I chose to do theater, I had worked in community development – the whole idea of community development[?]. And I was fascinated with it. In 1971, you had the Office of Community Development, the Model Cities program. You had these organic intellectuals – men, primarily women, who were there, who had become nationally known and who were trying to find ways in which they [could] change their community. They were taking grassroots democracy and trying to make it work for them, and I thought it was an extraordinary process that was happening.
They had come out of the movements that had happened: the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement. Now they said to governance, “We’re going to be participants in this process,” whether it’s about education, healthcare; whether it’s about community development.
All those were part of what brought me into this whole process, and it was a matriculation from when I was in university at San Francisco State. From that particular point on, when I assumed that I wanted to be an actor, I had to do something that I felt not only taught me the craft of acting and inspired whatever this urge was, but something that said what was important for me in the world and whose side in the world I was on.
I had the anti-apartheid movement. So, if you look at my theatrical resumé, it’s Athol Fugard, and that put me right in the midst of a movement, changing dynamics. And that’s been a part of – I’ve been fortunate to [have been] a part of that and then, in some sense, to do something that very few actors [have been] able to do – and that’s to make a real living doing this at the same time.
And then at the same time, you see the world. You see moments that you say, “Okay. I believed in what was happening in South Africa.” It may not have gone the way I thought it was. I believed in what was happening in Zimbabwe. It may not have gone the way I thought about. Does that in some sense discourage me from this whole process of watching people change their lives, of watching people confront the dynamics in their lives and change their lives? Absolutely not. It’s about the encouragement that everything, every moment I see – if I’m sitting in front of these children, if I’m somewhere watching men and women – whether they’re workers who wanted to vote to organize a union at Nissan in Canton, Mississippi, and watching them go through this process, that’s what drives me.
MR. MARTIN: Who, present day, when you think about Robeson, Belafonte, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Dick Gregory; when you think about Melvin Van Peebles –
MR. GLOVER: Yeah.
MR. MARTIN: — when you think about yourself – who, present day, do you say, “You know what? I can trust that person to pick up the mantle,” who really is carrying that banner forth?
MR. GLOVER: Well, I mean there’re men and women. There’s Erykah Badu and what she does. There’s Common and what he does. Mos Def, what he does and a lot of others. I’m just saying the present kind of voices that we hear out there.
MR. MARTIN: And do –
MR. GLOVER: And other –
MR. MARTIN: — do you take the time to, if you will, download your experiences into them as well, in essence, and pass it on to say, “Look,” you know, “here are the things that I’ve learned, I’ve grown to understand; and now it’s time for you to run your race”?
MR. GLOVER: Well, in some sense, we find a way. And I’m sure, as we move on in our relationships, that we find other ways in which we find a way to do that, you know. But you take someone like John Legend. You know, John Legend came on board on this, you know? He was involved in it. John Legend was involved in our thing that we did with Howard Zinn’s [A] People’s History. He was involved in that. He sang in that. He read in that – [unintelligible] – all these kinds of things you’re watching.
You know, I’ve learned from Harry, because Harry is always watching. Harry’s – [chuckles] – always watching. He’s going to find out “how I’m going to engage someone. I don’t care who it is,” you know? How he would engage Will Smith at one time, or how he tried to engage other artists at other times to try to find out where those people are, and to be able to say that, “We’re here. We got your back.” You know what I’m saying? “We got your back. We’re all part of this.”
We’re part of this lineage that you mentioned, this continuum that you mentioned.
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