Kenneth Cole Portraits

Kenneth Cole will kick off the Harry Belafonte Black Liberation Speaker Series tonight in partnership with The New York Public Library.

The series will consist of five conversations between thinkers and scholars from the worlds of activism, journalism, literature, poetry and entertainment.

Tonight’s event is a conversation about the new biography “The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X” by Les and Tamara Payne.

Cole, who throughout his career has sought to raise social justice issues, reached out to Belafonte to figure out a way to support Black communities.

“Harry has been a friend and a mentor for many years,” said Cole on Monday. “When the BLM movement erupted over the summer, I went to him to better understand it and what role I, or the company, could play. I have always felt that what he has done culturally and through his activism for the Black community, and all communities, has been profoundly meaningful as well as inspiring. Maria [Cole’s wife] and I always hoped that one day we would have the opportunity to shine a light on his work, and that is what this program has become. Recalling that the New York Public Library had recently renamed their Harlem branch after him, we approached them about this collaboration. Today, in partnership with NYPL, we are proud to honor Harry by bringing The Harry Belafonte Black Liberation Speaker Series to Life.”

A brief signature video honoring Belafonte  will open each talk in the series. Susanne Rostock, a director and editor, provided all the film content.

The 93-year-old Belafonte has had a profound impact on Black culture and activism as one of the earliest voices and leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. He has served as cultural adviser for the Peace Corps, was a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and recently founded Sankofa, a social justice organization that utilizes the power of culture and celebrities in partnership with activism.

Tonight’s event at  8 p.m. will include a conversation between Tamara Payne and Reverend Calvin Butts, pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, and will be introduced by poet and author Kevin Young, director of the Schomburg Center.

The event is free, and people can register at

The second event is Nov. 16 at 8 p.m. and will feature Raven Leilani, author of “Luster,” and 2020 Young Lions Fiction Award nominee Kiley Reid, author of “Such a Fun Age.” Both novels feature young Black women trying to navigate the challenges of a world often neglectful of their needs. They will speak with writer Roxanne Fequiere about their novels in the broader context of Black feminism.

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