When I think of Sidney Poitier it brings me back to a rather revealing conversation I had with my late father on one of our many rides to Brooklyn. I remember it quite fondly, as it was one of the few times I could say I saw my father somewhat vulnerable. “I was afraid of your mother when I met her,” he said. “I often wondered if the only reason we became a couple is because I was the closest thing to Sidney Poitier.” It was rather humorous when I think about it.
My mother never minced words when it came to the dignified and dashing Mr. Poitier. She was a fan, no doubt about it, but she was equally an admirer of his body of work and how he carried the mantel of history hoisted upon him. My father was, like Mr. Poitier an immigrant to the United States. Mr. Poitier from the Bahamas, my father from Trinidad-Tobago. My father, like Mr. Poitier was also tall and strikingly handsome, blessed with a rich, dark, and gorgeous hue. Perhaps, my father was on to something.
I was particularly fortunate to experience such revealing aspects of my parents, all over one man, Mr. Sidney Poitier. As I reflect on his monumental life, I am struck by his unwavering sense of ambassadorship. To be the first at or for anything is its own burdensome gift. To be a Black man in this world who is unapologetically excellent and true to himself is the stuff of miracles. I now recognize why I was so unconsciously prepared when history found me. The likes of Mr. Sidney Poitier had been my model my entire life. Those who are fortunate to find a favorable spotlight should never neglect to understand how far, wide, deep, or high their reach actually is. Whether it is fair or not, is neither here nor there, for every gift, talent, or power brings with it a significant measure of responsibility. It’s so much bigger than you!
One of the unconscious lessons I gleaned from Mr. Poitier is that one’s obligations or accountability is not merely beholden to the work one does, but to one’s life off stage or away from the camera, as well. Especially, when one’s work brings them prominence. No, it isn’t fair and yes, all of us have our peculiar shadow. Nevertheless, we are indeed more than the work we do. Mr. Poitier fully understood this and this is why for his many fans and admirers, myself included, he wasn’t just an actor and filmmaker, he was an institution.
To, Mr. Poitier with love and admiration…Thank you!