Mon | Jan 24, 2022

Ode to Sidney Poitier

Published:Tuesday | January 11, 2022 | 12:06 AM


Big up and ‘nuff respect for the life of Sidney Poitier, which spanned 94 incredible years from 1927 to 2022. He lived past the normal life expectancy of African-American men and surpassed, by far, the life expectancy of Hollywood’s rich and famous, and with no history of substance abuse.

I met Poitier onscreen in my high-school years (yes, in the early ‘70s). To Sir With Love was on our literature reading list and, when we were given the opportunity to see the book in film, we were glued to our seats at Carib Theatre. The storyline was relevant and appropriate. Sidney’s character was a young black teacher tasked with educating a bunch of poorly behaved White teenagers. We were proud of Sidney, whose role in the movie represented a seminal race-reversal story. It was the ‘70s, and we had an award-winning black man not only teaching whites, but also giving them lessons in civilised behaviour. In the movie Lilies of the Field, his genius earned him the Best Actor Oscar in 1964. He recognised the formidable achievement in his acceptance speech with, “it has been a long journey to this moment ... .”

To appreciate the significance of that Best Actor award in 1964, remember this was only a few months after Martin Luther King led the March on Washington. The march, followed by the Oscar award, demanded equality and an end to discrimination against Poitier’s sisters and brothers living in the United States. It was this defining time for the civil rights movement that places Poitier’s Best Actor award in its proper context. Ten years before Poitier’s award, in 1954, America finally outlawed its system of apartheid. These sad truths about the black experience in the so-called “land of the free and home of the brave”, underscores the importance of Poitier’s achievements.

We embrace him as a child of the Caribbean who swam upstream to open the door for black actors to walk through to the front row of the Oscar awards. The record now reveals that Poitier invested in the promotion of education for blacks, and acted as a true Pan-Africanist. He was no black radical, but, as my sister, Jacky, said the day after his passing, “... he built bridges for activists to cross.”

Sidney Poitier, actor, philanthropist, and role model, lived a strident, responsible life. A life we can ask our children to emulate as they ascend to greatness. Bye, Sidney ... walk good, my brother.