Is a lack of education holding you back? If so, I’d like to tell you how Sidney Poitier, who calls himself a “semi-literate tomato farmer,” overcame this problem to become a famous actor, director and writer.
Poitier was born to a poor family on Cat Island in the Bahamas and at birth, he weighed just three pounds. His parents, believing he wouldn’t survive, built a little coffin for him. But in a home that had no electricity or indoor plumbing, he beat the odds. Poitier’s formal education never went beyond the second grade and at the age of “six or seven,” he began working in the tomato fields.
His parents desperately wanted a better life for him and so in his early teens, they sent him to Miami to live with an older brother. Poitier became a delivery boy and one day; he took a package to a wealthy white woman. Deliveries were to be made at the rear entrance of her residence but not knowing this, he came to the front door.
When she insisted that the package be delivered to the rear entrance, he said he’d made a mistake but as they were now together, would she please accept the package. She refused and got upset with him for not doing as he was told and for talking back. Soon, Ku Klux Klan members came looking for him and his family quickly sent him to New York City.
Poitier was 15 and had “$3 in my pocket.” He got a job as a dishwasher and was so poor; he “slept in a pay toilet.” One day, he saw an ad seeking actors for a play in Harlem. This seemed exciting and he auditioned but was so bad, that the producer tore the script from his hands and in front of others, screamed at him to become a dishwasher, not knowing he already was. Poitier was humiliated and fighting back tears, vowed to do what was necessary to become an actor.
For the next six months, he listened to the radio to learn to speak better and to get rid of his “Caribbean sing-song.” Now more confident, Poitier enrolled in an acting school, paying his tuition by becoming the school’s janitor. He soon got a small role in a play and he was so awkward he inappropriately made the audience laugh, but his performance captivated them as well.
This led him to bigger stage roles and eventually he was cast in the 1950 movie, “No Way Out,” starring Richard Widmark. Poitier’s movie career had begun and with hard work, dedication and his determination to prevail over discrimination it took him to Hollywood’s top echelon.
How did Poitier overcome his lack of education? He became an avid reader of books, plays, newspapers and magazines. At 78, he still reads extensively, including five newspapers a day. So for whatever may lack in your education, you’ll find it in the library, on the Internet, in a newspaper or magazine rack or in a bookstore, where a world of knowledge awaits you.
In the next KazanToday, The migrant farm worker whose passion for change uplifted the lives of millions of farm workers and helped to put better produce on your table.
Note From The Author
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