Entertainment

LeVar Burton returns to his hometown for the official dedication of LeVar Burton Park

After leaving Sacramento and having an illustrious career in television, LeVar Burton returned to his hometown Tuesday for the official dedication of LeVar Burton Park, formerly known as Richfield Park, in the Meadowview neighborhood where he was raised.

Burton — host and executive producer of the award-winning children’s show “Reading Rainbow,” star of the TV miniseries “Roots” and a prominent cast member in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” — spoke to a crowd of a few hundred people, accepting the dedication and expressing his gratitude to family members, some of whom were present.

“Everything I have done in the field of literacy has been in honor of my mother, Irma Jean Christian,” Burton said. Christian, a former English teacher and social worker, was “deeply committed to her children achieving their full potential, knowing education was the key,” he said.

“Who has parks named after them? Dead people, for the most part,” he quipped. “I’m happy to say I am alive and kicking.”

After Burton’s speech, fans lined up to take pictures, get autographs and chat with him.

Community members socialized beneath the shade of tents and beside free food carts, sponsored by Mayor Darrell Steinberg, as a live band played the blues. Burton himself requested the band’s presence: its keyboard player, Mike Warlow, has been friends with Burton since 1971 — “forever,” Warlow said.

Karen Burney, a genealogist who has lived in Sacramento since 1961, was one of the speakers who lauded Burton. She said Burton’s role in “Roots” inspired her to pursue her occupation.

“He led me to trace my own roots, and later to become a professional genealogist,” she said.

She also credited “Reading Rainbow” with helping her son’s education. “He started reading when he was age 2 from watching ‘Reading Rainbow,’ and ended up skipping a grade,” she said.

“Sacramento is so fortunate to have one of our own come out and do so well,” she said.

Sacramento City Councilman Larry Carr and Raymond Taylor, vice president of the Meadowview Neighborhood Association, cited Burton as an inspiration for the neighborhood. The event was partly an effort to counteract what Taylor called public misperceptions regarding “bad things about South Sac.”

“We wanted to demonstrate physically to the kids that people from this neighborhood can achieve great things,” Carr said.

Burton addressed that issue himself after his speech, saying he wants to be role model for kids from Meadview and elsewhere.

“I genuinely believe that if you can see it, you can realize it,” he said of his own success as an African American actor, director and producer.

Justine Parker, who traveled from Nevada City to attend the event, said, “LeVar Burton has always been an icon of goodness and ethics and intelligence to me. It’s really satisfying to witness him getting the celebration he deserves while he gets to enjoy it.”

“Maybe this happens more often than I think it does, but I don’t know of a living person who’s had a park named after them,” she added.

Despite getting overheated, Burton, who is 62, continued to greet fans and community members before departing just before 1 p.m.

Burton was scheduled to be honored at a special-resolution presentation at Tuesday evening’s City Council meeting.

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Chalay Chalermkraivuth, from Yale University, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee. She reports on arts and entertainment, the LGBTQ community and social justice. She grew up in Bangkok, Thailand.
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