LeVar Burton

My 5 Minutes with the President

LeVar Burton played Lt. Geordi La Forge in the television series “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Burton also portrayed La Forge in the subsequent feature films based on the show, beginning with “Star Trek Generations” and “Star Trek Nemesis”; and directed several episodes of “Star Trek: Voyager.”

Also, on television, Burton has dramatized the last days of Jim Jones’s suicide cult in Guyana and chronicled the life and times of Jesse Owens, and he portrayed Martin Luther King Jr. in the film “Ali.” He played Detroit Tiger Ron LeFlore in the television movie “One in a Million: The Ron LeFlore Story.”

Burton rose to prominence when he played Kunta Kinte in the ABC award-winning drama series “Roots.” As a result of his performance, he was nominated for the Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama Series. Burton reprised the role in the television film “Roots: The Gift.”

When asked about the societal impacts of “Roots,” Burton is quoted as saying, “It expanded the consciousness of people. Blacks and whites began to see each other as human beings, not as stereotypes. And if you throw a pebble into the pond, you’re going to get ripples. I think the only constant is change, and it’s always slow. Anything that happens overnight is lacking in foundation. ‘Roots’ is part of a changing trend, and it’s still being played out.” 

In the area of edu-tainment, Burton hosted “Rebop,” a multicultural series designed for young people ages 9-15, produced for PBS. Burton was the host and executive producer of “Reading Rainbow,” also for PBS. That series ran for 21 seasons, making it one of the longest-running children’s programs on the network. “Reading Rainbow” garnered several awards over its run, including a Peabody Award and 26 Emmys, 10 of which were in the “Outstanding Children’s Series” category.

Burton and “Reading Rainbow” recently launched a literacy app for iPhones and iPads. Burton is on the board of directors for the Directors Guild of America.

ROBIN BRONK: If you had five minutes in the Oval Office with President Obama, what would you discuss with him? What issue would you like him to know about?

 LEVAR BURTON: One that I am certain that he is acutely aware of — the state of education in America and how we are going to turn that around. It is my opinion that we have spent way too much money on the machinery of war; and, yet, we cannot afford to educate our children anymore in a way that Americans are accustomed to.

RB: If you could ask President Obama one question, what would that be?

LB: How can we turn this around?

RB: What piece of advice would you give President Obama as he’s campaigning for the upcoming election?

LB: Simply — do your “thang.” 

RB: If you were going to send the president to one of your favorite places in the United States for one day, where would that be? Why?

LB: In the United States, it would be Taos Pueblo, N.M. He would have an opportunity to really get grounded with the spirit of this country, the original ancient spirit of this country. 

RB: What piece of music would you recommend that President Obama add to his collection? Why?

LB: When I am looking for inspiration, one of my go-to musical groups is Sounds of Blackness, and their song “Optimistic.”

RB: Would you ever consider a political career?

LB: Absolutely not. I used to think about politics as a potential career. I realize now that I can definitely be more effective in making change doing what I do, without having to hold public office, and without having to deal with any of the “stuff” that goes along with holding public office.

Robin Bronk is CEO of The Creative Coalition — the leading national, nonprofit, nonpartisan public advocacy organization of the entertainment industry. Bronk is a frequent speaker on the role of the entertainment industry in public advocacy campaigns and represents The Creative Coalition and its legislative agenda before members of Congress and the White House. She produced the feature film “Poliwood,” airing on Showtime, and edited the recently published book Art & Soul. Bronk pens this weekly column with assistance from Risa Kotek.