LeVar Burton is pretty much the coolest person ever. In addition to maintaining the heart of the USS Enterprise and keeping kids like me boldly going where no one had gone before for years, LeVar Burton is STILL changing the world one children’s book at a time.
My wife and I supported the Reading Rainbow kickstarter and I was excited to play the app with my 4-year-old. He took to it instantly. We listened to the first few books, narrated by various voice talents, and then the third book started and a familiar voice came on. I was instantly four years old, sitting right beside my son, and LeVar Burton was reading me a story for the first time in twenty years. I might have teared up a little.
Much as I adore him, LeVar Burton’s awesomeness is also the source of one of my most embarrassing childhood stories.
In 3rd grade I petitioned my mother for my very own Starfleet uniform—specifically I needed a gold engineering uniform with 2 1/2 pips. The one indicating a Lieutenant Commander. Yes, that one. The one that would make me Geordie LaForge.
She spent hours on it. It was perfect. I was so proud I smuggled it to school beneath my coat for picture day. My friends all looked ready for awkward 7-year old job interviews in their very traditional class pictures. I looked like I was ready to charge some freaking warp nacelles with dilithium crystals. Bam.
To be clear, this is not the embarrassing part of my story.
The real purpose for my mother’s hard work came a few weeks later—October 31st. Halloween. I donned the uniform and my best black slacks. I borrowed my sister’s headband and a couple of rubber bands and strapped on my visor, which was undeniably and obviously cool. But I still didn’t quite look the part. Something about my porcelain Irish complexion was lacking. Luckily, the Halloween grease-paint multi-pack had the solution.
I know. Lord, I know. In retrospect, I see the painful irony of a white kid wearing blackface to honor the lead from the film Roots. I see it now. I also understand in hindsight all the pursed lips and knowing looks my neighbors shared when they opened their doors.
“Hey kids—oh. Oh, hi little William. Is that, um, is that you with yer face all…?”
“Of course you are.”
Because nothing says entitlement like demanding treats for appropriating a culture.
Misguided though it was, even as a child I respected the hell out of LeVar Burton. I write YA books now, and I teach Literature to high schoolers. I encourage gleeful, unbridled nerdiness at every opportunity. I’m 30 years old, and I’m still a Reading Rainbow kid. I can think of no higher heights to which I might aspire than to help my childhood hero change the world, one children’s book at a time.