2016 Regions Riding Forward® Winning Essay by Hanna V.

I can go anywhere and I can do anything.  As a child, I was happily reminded of this while watching my favorite children’s program, “Reading Rainbow.”  Its host, LeVar Burton, has been an inspiration to me, not only for his work on this show, but also for “Roots” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”  True, Mr. Burton has not spearheaded any scientific discoveries, but he has had an incredibly positive educational impact on me and all the children who have been touched by the magic of “Reading Rainbow.”  Even long after the demise of this twenty-year program, hailed as the best in children’s programming, Mr. Burton continues to work tirelessly for children’s literacy projects, catapulting his ideals into the age of technology with engaging reading apps and social media that support reading as an integral base for everyone, without which, one cannot “boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Mr. Burton, as host of “Reading Rainbow,” would take me, a shy, young girl, on countless field trips where I would vicariously be digging for dinosaur bones, observing artists in their studios, or meeting people from various cultures. He introduced me to ideas and piqued my interest to question everything!  How was I supposed to answer all my questions?  By reading, of course!  Hence, an avid reader was born, encouraged, and motivated to explore worlds outside of the reality of my immediate neighborhood. 

I met him again--in my eighth-grade Social Studies class, not as a guest speaker, but as an actor on the mini-series, “Roots.”  Granted, he did not write the novel on which this series was based, however, he embodied the atrocities of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.  He put a face to slavery and we heard the pain in the voices of slaves echoed through his voice. Nearly forty years later, the power of “Roots” holds strong.  Think of how many students worldwide have been educated about U.S. slavery, just by watching this and the subsequent series! 

Finally, as a junior in high school, I bumped into Mr. Burton again. In a casual get together with friends, I was introduced to “Star Trek:  The Next Generation.”  To my surprise, there was the “Reading Rainbow” guy again!  For me, his portrayal of Geordi La Forge was amazing—Mr. Burton, an African-American, was in space in almost every episode. Since the inception of the N.A.S.A. program, there have only been a little over a dozen African-American astronauts. In school, we are bombarded with images of Neil Armstrong and Apollo 13. Yet, Next Generation, viewers worldwide have been able to realistically buy into the fact that an African-American can work in space and hold a position of vital importance in the crew. 

It is remarkable to consider the power that media can play; entertainment goals are delightfully usurped by ideals of social equity, tolerance, and education. Indeed, LeVar Burton continues to educate and inspire students of all ages to be anything and do anything in this world and beyond.




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