Black Voice

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By: Priscilla Wiredu

On May 2, 2023, Olympic Medalist Frentorish “Tori” Bowie died after experiencing complications from childbirth.  

Bowie was eight months pregnant at the time of death with a well-developed fetus when she was going into labor.  

Reports claim that Bowie may have been having respiratory distress as well as eclampsia; a condition where someone develops seizures following a sudden spike in high blood pressure. 

As tragic as Bowie’s preventable death was, her death is a wake-up call for many about an alarming trend occurring in America; the mortality rates of Black women in maternity and reproductive rights. 

Pregnancy-Related Deaths 

The issue of Black maternity falls on many facets when it comes to reproductive health.  

Black women have the highest maternal death rate in America than any other ethnic group.  

A 2021 study revealed that the rate was 69 percent per 100,000 births, making it three times higher than the rate for White women. 

The most obvious answer to such a jarring trend is simple: racism and discrimination.  

Maternal emergencies are a common issue amongst Black women. Celebrity status or not, both Serena Williams and Beyonce are two famous Black celebrities that have borne children of their own and faced life-threatening complications with their pregnancies.  

This issue has been stated as a public health emergency and an impediment to human rights since most of these deaths could have been prevented. 

In the final stages of a pregnancy being monitored, Black women often experience being undervalued. If they state any unusual symptoms, they are dismissed for their feelings and are told their conditions are not severe. Racial biases can impact the credibility of quality healthcare as complications can impact the level of care patients receive.  

These problems can stem from direct care or communication issues, where medical history fails to get passed along on behalf of the patient. 

There are socio economic ties to it as well. Black women fail to follow a healthy diet during pregnancy due to the lack of access to nutritional food. Other issues like poverty, unemployment, and a lack of a proper education about childbirth also contribute to the issue with Black maternal death. 

Access to Abortion 

It is not only childbirth that Black women have to deal with; but also abortion access.  

After the overturning of Roe v. Wade (1973), the concerns for Black women and bodily autonomy became more trivialized.  

Without equal access to abortion, it is estimated that Black women will have a 30 percent increase in mortality rate from pregnancy and/or childbirth. Also, an increase in the risk of health complications, teen pregnancy, and financial burdens. 

Black women lack proper access to prenatal care. It is especially limited for Black women who live in low-income areas. 

Black women in the U.S. are more likely to become obese, which leads to the risk of gestational diabetes, hypertension, and other pregnancy complications. If aftercare is not received, obesity will gradually rise among Black women. 

On April 25, 2023, legendary calypso singer and activist Harry Belafonte passed away at 96, according to his spokesperson. As a famed singer, Belafonte was noted for his popular song “Day-O” (or “The Banana Boat Song”). The song offers a unique musical experience, with catchy phrases that touch upon problematic issues of the working class during colonization.  

Belafonte continuously made a tremendous impact on the world not only through his music but his impact on advocating for equality. Belafonte is an icon in the Black community who was well known for his initiatives in fighting against racism, poverty, apartheid, and many other injustices in society.  

Belafonte was clever in meshing upbeat rhythms with dystopian issues to instil messages in his audiences of the harsh realities Black people faced during slavery.  

The Black Voice Team commemorates Harry Belafonte. 

Early Life 

Harry Belafonte was born as Harold George Bellafanti Jr. on March 1, 1927, in Harlem, New York City. Belafonte was of mixed descent born to West Indian/Jamaican parents, and was raised Catholic.  

Belafonte lived with one of his grandmothers in Jamaica for eight years, and upon returning to New York City, he dropped out of high school to enlist in the U.S. Navy and served in the Second World War. 

In the 1940s, he worked as a janitor’s assistant where he was gifted with two tickets to the American Negro Theatre. Befriending the late famed actor Sidney Poitier, Belafonte fell in love with the art form. He and Poitier spent their free time attending local plays, trading places between acts, and informing each other about how the play is going. 

By the end of the 40s, Belafonte enrolled in acting classes at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School in NYC, alongside Bea Arthur, Poitier, Marlon Brando, and Tony Curtis. He learned viable skills from these reputable actresses and actors in the performing arts scene. He would occasionally perform acts at the American Negro Theatre. He won his first Tony Award in the Broadway play John Murray Anderson’s Almanac in 1954. 

Rise to Fame 

In 1950, Belafonte became a folk singer through intensive researching and practicing songs from the Library of Congress’s American folk song archives. He gained tremendous fame when he started to sing Caribbean folk songs in nightclubs and theatres, attracting lively audiences. With his noted songs “Day-O” and “Jamaica Farewell,” he created the fad of calypso music and was named the “King of Calypso.”  

In the mid-1950s, Belafonte received his first hit when he released his folk song album, Harry Belafonte, Mark Twain, and Other Folk Favorites. It was also during this time he made his Broadway debut in Almanac and later on he starred in a stage play, 3 for Tonight and Belafonte at the Palace.  

Belafonte starred in several films and musicals throughout the 50s, before pursuing other hobbies and interests. In the 60s, he became the first African American television producer, credited with several productions. During his recording career, Belafonte’s notable albums included Swing Dat Hammer (1960) where he was awarded a Grammy for best folk performance. 

In 1970 he returned to the big screen with the drama The Angel Levine. Later film credits include Buck and the Preacher (1972), Uptown Saturday Night (1974), The Player (1992), Kansas City (1996), Bobby (2006), and BlacKkKlansman (2018). 

Belafonte as an Icon 

It goes without saying that by breaking many segregated barriers, Belafonte is an icon in Black resilience and an inspiration for Black people worldwide. Belafonte fought a long, tiresome fight against racism, discrimination, and many other systemic barriers targeted towards racialized  groups. A quick rundown of his famed efforts is as follows: 


In the 1950s, Belafonte was first known as the Black musician to break racial barriers with his voice, both in singing and in acting. He became a unique Black figure in entertainment alongside Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.  

In his 1957 movie, Island in the Sun, Belafonte’s character falls in love with a white woman. The movie’s plot generated racial outrage in the South, prompting a bill in the South Carolina Legislature that would fine movie theaters for showing the film.  

Belafonte was strong in his fight to achieve Black positivity, having turned down a role in the 1959 film Porgy and Bess stating that he did not agree with the negative racial stereotypes of the Black characters. Belafonte had the power to decide which projects he affiliated himself with which allowed his audience to view him as a credible actor who was not invested in acting for the money, but to engage in roles that supported Black excellence.  

Political Activism 

Belafonte was also known as one of the last surviving protestors of the Civil Rights Movement. Belafonte stated that he would never grow tired of the fight for equality among Black people, believing that if he lived to see it, then he would know that his hard work and effort has paid off.  

Belafonte became a grassroots organizer for Muhammad Ali when Ali was using his celebrity status in a civil rights case. Marching with MLK Jr., hearing MLK’s famous “I Have a Dream Speech,” Belafonte made sure to be a strong advocate in the fight for justice.  

Even in his golden years, Belafonte engaged in peaceful protests alongside the Black Lives Matter and Occupy movements.  

In 2013, the then 86-year-old joined a Florida state house student sit-in to immerse himself in discussions at the office of Governor Rick Scott following the murder of Trayvon Martin.  

Belafonte was never afraid to speak his mind and call out modes of segregation and apartheid, despite having a prestigious reputation.  

In 2011, Belafonte attended an interview with PBS and expressed that he was an activist who became an artist, “I saw theater as a social force, as a political force.”  


For the last 40 years, Belafonte continued his efforts to help support various causes in Africa, including the HIV/AIDS crisis, education, equitable healthcare access, and apartheid. Some of his noted accomplishments are as follows: 

  • Helped raise funds for Africa for the 1985 song “We Are The World”  
  • Appointed as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF in 1987 
  • Was a Chairman in the International Symposium of Artists and Intellectuals for African Children in Dakar, Senegal in 1988 
  • Travelled for a mission trip to Rwanda in 1994, and launched a media campaign about the needs of the Rwandan children 
  • Supported an HIV/AIDS campaign in South Africa in 2001 
  • Travelled to Kenya in 2004 to advocate more widespread childhood education 

Belafonte’s efforts did not go unrecognized.  

He won the 2006 BET Humanitarian Award and was named one of AARP’s 2006 Impact Award recipients. In 2013, he was presented with the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal, and received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his activism in social justice at the 2015 Oscars. In 2016, Belafonte and Oprah Winfrey were awarded the annual W.E.B. Du Bois Medals from Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. 

​Belafonte’s legacy is unforgettable; a collection of his personal works can be found in the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.  

Upon the news of his death, figures including U.S. President Joe Biden, Ice Cube, and Mia Farrow paid their sincere tribute to Belafonte.  

President Biden commented that Belafonte was a “groundbreaking American who used his talent and voice to help redeem the soul of our nation.”  

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Priscilla Wiredu is a writer for this year’s Black Voice project. An alumni of York University, she graduated with Honors where she studied Social Sciences. She then went on to get an Ontario Graduate certificate in Creative Writing from the Humber School for Writers, and a college certificate in Legal Office Administration at Seneca College. She is currently studying for the LSAT in hopes of going to law school. Her main goal as a Black Voices writer is to ensure Black issues and Black Pride are enunciated through her works.

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