Actor and director LeVar Burton (1957-) was born Levardis Robert Martyn Burton Jr. on this day in Landstuhl, West Germany. The son of an Army Sergeant and English teacher, Burton grew up with a passion for literature.
"Reading was mandatory, not optional," he explained and attended the University of Southern California on a full academic scholarship. While a student at USC, he landed the role of the young African slave Kunta Kinte in the acclaimed mini-series, Roots (1977, by Alex Haley), a celebration of race and history.
About this breakthrough debut, he said "It was a phenomenal role for any actor to be handed. What was going through my mind was getting it right. I had no thought or expectation of what it would lead to."
Burton also made Star Fleet history as the blind chief engineer Geordie LaForge in the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994). "The longer the series was on the air. The more and more Star Trek became sort of entrenched in the culture the more...people really embraced it," he said.
A positive role-model, the multi-talented performer has directed episodes of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. The host and co-executive producer of the long-running PBS children's show Reading Rainbow (1983-), he has also written the sci-fi thriller, Aftermath (1997).
An advocate who has lobbied for better funding for literacy, he said, "The life I'm leading now is at least in part because of my early exposure to literature, and because of a love of reading that I embraced at a very early age. To be able to share that with other people is a phenomenal gift, a gift that gives both ways."
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There is value in all aspects of life.