LeVar Burton Lecture

The Power of Storytelling.  That was the title of the lecture LeVar Burton gave at Utah Valley University on May 16th.  I was eager to hear his words and get re-energized about my chosen craft.

As I waited with my friends for the lecture to start, the atmosphere was one of anticipation.  Excitement seemed to exude from every individual, uniting us in our complete and utter geeking out.  It was beautiful.  That’s a pretty powerful impact that the man has.

Despite my giddiness I took quite a few notes. I thought I’d share them here, so you too can be influenced for good by this wise storyteller.


The Power of Storytelling Notes (added some info to help it read smoother for you all)

He started by saying, “A life long learner I consider to be a … dangerous individual.”  He said that it’s a good thing, it means they are more likely to reach their full potential.

Literacy – helps with critical thinking.  Critical thinking  helps it so someone can make complex ideas in simple form.

When we do this it automatically involves STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math).  But he prefers STREAM!

Science, Technology, READING, Art, Math!


When he was eight years old he wanted to be a priest.  Priests were his more positive male role models and they didn’t pay taxes =cP

Then later he discovered storytelling.  “…Storyteller- that is who I am.”

Storytellers can create access to parts of human beings – a connection that makes us realize our power – the power of imagination.

Imagination is what has propelled us forward in our human journey.

Sci-fi helps us contemplate “What if?”  We literally release our super power.

What we imagine and what we create are linked.

Then gave examples of things imagined on Star Trek that came into being like the flip phones, Uhura’s earpiece (bluetooth), and tablets.

What we focus on in our imagination is what we manifest in the human realm.

It is in our DNA to be storytellers.  We must ask ourselves, “What will my particular contribution be?”

He mentioned how he literally lived in a time where we (African Americans) called each other when people of color were on tv.  It is important to see ourselves in popular culture.  It is critical to self image – sends a message that you do not matter when it isn’t there.

It takes two for a successful storyteller.  A storyteller and a story-listener.  Discernment as a listener is important.  A knife is either a weapon or a tool depending on the person who wields it.

Words/self-talk/intentions/social media – we are all in a constant storytelling mode.

He then spoke of his mother.  He said whenever he has a chance to say her name in public, he does.  Erma Jean Burton.  We all applauded.  He then shared that she died six months ago.  He always saw his mother reading.

Reading is as important as breathing in the human experience.

His mother had standards and consequences, hopes and expectations for him- so he knew the value of being educated.  She made sure he knew that there were no limits except those you put on yourself.


He spoke of the miniseries he was in called Roots and shared this intense scene in the show.  It was him, playing Kunta Kinte, where he is hung up by his hands.  One of the other slaves is whipping him as the taskmaster is trying to make him say his new name, Toby.  It is an intense scene as you see the young man defy them, saying his true name over and over and each time being whipped for it.  Eventually Kunta does say his name is Toby, the boy no longer able to withstand the punishment for his insistence.  He’s cut down after he says it a second time.  Another slave comes to him and puts Kunta’s head in his lap, and speaks to him – telling him it doesn’t matter what others call him, “you know who you are.”

He spoke about the before and after experience of this miniseries.  That it became a communal experience and greater understanding arose all because of one family’s story.  Was very dynamic – the very nature of storytelling where it is on a conscious and sub-conscious level.

This is one example of the impact of storytelling.  He then spoke of the moving pictures and sound and the benefit of reaching people in the ways that they are most receptive.  Some are kinesthetic, audio, visual.

Do not underestimate the influence of video games in storytelling.  Video games is more powerful than you can imagine – cause you are living it!

We came after people who sacrificed – where we can be accepted as a child of God and know we are worthy of the dignity and respect that every human deserves.

Education = Technology and Storytelling

Want everyone to have access to education that resonates with them – and is student driven.

We are moving to more digital forms of education.  Noted that there will be fewer books printed – moving to more digital because, if nothing else, making books out of trees isnt’ sustainable.

All media is educational, the question is what are we teaching?  Digital devices can remove the lens of when and where education takes place.  It can revolutionize how we teach.


Talked briefly about music in storytelling. The impact of the song Testify.  He then shared three phrases, but I’m afraid I missed the connection.  Could be lessons he learned from the song?  Not sure.

Be still – to feel God

Stand in love – only sane response to being human

Pay attention – might miss something critical for your personal story.

It was a fantastic lecture and he was actually super funny.  I just don’t think I can translate the jokes that well to paper =c)


Photo by: Lorna Jane

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