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Volume 72, Issue 102, Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Scenes of kindness

Academy Award-winning actor Sidney Poitier says he owes much in his life to philanthropy

The Daily Cougar

Academy Award-winning actor Sidney Poitier said philanthropy has impacted his life and helped promote the oneness of the human family at a lecture Monday at the Hobby Center for Performing Arts. 

"Philanthropy is a profound manifestation of the very best in us all," Poitier said. Philanthropists, he said, enable the oneness of humans to persist through acts of goodwill.

"Without (philanthropists') continued indispensable efforts, and yours, our world would be more inhospitable, less humane and infinitely less hopeful than we hope to be for our mutual ongoing survival," Poitier said.

Poitier, who was knighted in 1974, took the audience through 12 snapshots of his life, starting from birth to his childhood on Cat Island in the Bahamas and ending with his arrival in Hollywood. 

Two snapshots personified the considerable impact acts of kindness have had on Poitier's life. The first was after he was arrested for vagrancy when he was 16 and living in New York City. 

When he was released the next morning, an officer followed him and asked where he planned to go. The destitute Poitier told the officer he didn't know, which then prompted the officer to give him 50 cents and the address of an orphanage run by Catholic nuns in Brooklyn. 

After being taken in by the sisters, Poitier spent two weeks weighing his options. He left the orphanage and joined the Army. Although he had to lie about his age to enter the service, he never again had to live on the streets. 

As a result of the benevolence he experienced, Poitier expressed the importance of thanking people for their kindness before they leave your life.

"I regret that the opportunity has never arisen in which I could have properly thanked that police officer, not only for the 50 cents and suggesting the sisters in Brooklyn, but also for what was in his heart when he followed me out of that police station on West 33rd Street," Poitier said.

The second experience he highlighted is the one Poitier considers to be synonymous with the word philanthropy. 

While working as a dishwasher in a restaurant in Queens, N.Y., Poitier sat reading a newspaper waiting for the waiters to finish their coffee so he could wash the last of the dishes and go home. 

One of the waiters asked him what was new in the paper, to which Poitier answered truthfully and told him he was only trying to teach himself to read better, and so he could not explain what was in the paper. 

The waiter then offered to read the paper with him, and did so every night after that until Poitier learned. 

When the waiter quit his job, Poitier was once again faced with the regret of not expressing his gratitude. 

"Our paths never crossed again. We went on our separate ways, drawing to our individual destinies," he said. "As for me, burdened with an unresolved regret for having squandered opportunities to have thanked him fully and properly."

Poitier's speech was sponsored as part of the Brilliant Lecture Series: Conversations With Brilliance.

Poitier, who is the current ambassador to Japan for the Bahamas, advised his audience always to keep trying.

"It doesn't matter how many times you've been knocked down, what matters is what you do with your time after you get up."

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