When so many are giving thanks and sending greetings, it is good to enter into such a spirit as this, on a Forum such as this. We thus do likewise. Earlier this year we began to develop new ideas for our Forum. One of these is the Ustinov Prejudice Awareness Forum Award. I have devised this to further the work of the Forum and extend the reach of its purpose.To become known as the “Awareness Awards,” these shall honour or pay tribute to inspiring figures in culture, who have made some real and significant contribution to the awareness of prejudice, thus also leading to the eradication of it. We do so, ourselves here, inspired to action, by the efforts of Sir Peter Ustinov, the instigator of this Forum, with that of Igor Ustinov, the leader of the wider Ustinov Network that continues this inspiring legacy. We are going to offer this new element, mindful of the achievements of the Awareness Awardee, and with heartfelt acknowledgement of our appreciation of these. This gesture is more than a token, it rather, is to inspire. We are going to include this feature periodically, with no set timetable, or lack of regularity either, but as and when fitting. We shall be doing so as our Commemoration of those past, a Commendation by those present and a celebration into the future. These are legacy awards.
This year we lost one of the truly important and indeed, also iconic, figures in the arts, the actor and ambassador Sidney Poitier. The First Ustinov Prejudice Awareness Forum Award is given as a Commemoration of Sir Sidney Poitier.
The Citation In Celebration Of Sir Sidney Poitier
More than many and before most, Sidney Poitier put on screen, and before that, on stage, the dignity and humanity of a man, in the roles he played. He did so as an everyman, but he did so as an individual man. The particular individuality of Sidney Poitier was especially significant. For while his persona, that of a man of character and substance, with good looks and charismatic qualities, was one shared with others before him and after him, he had one extra and obvious attribute in an era when that was remarkable. Sidney Poitier was the first black star of the screen, with leading man status, and in his case, born of leadership qualities. His film star charm, however, went hand in hand with great talent. A fine actor as good as any, he was also a man of wide interest and broad achievement. From the outset his was a journey of noteworthy effort. From birth in the United States, through his childhood and education in the then British Colony, The Bahamas, to becoming a stage actor on Broadway, a movie star in Hollywood, this was not all.
Sidney Poitier had a social conscience and a humanitarian conscientiousness. Greatly active in the civil rights movement from the beginning, this effort continued to enhance the movement and his reputation. He supported a range of charitable and social causes. This led to his eventual appointment as the Ambassador of the Bahamas, to Japan, and his receipt of the Medal Of Freedom by the United States, given to him by President Obama, the first ethnic minority President of his country. He was also the first major black cultural figure to be given a Knighthood, in the United Kingdom, as early as the 1970’s, by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11, who, coincidentally we also alas lost this year.
He was a rebellious but ambitious youth, in Blackboard Jungle, an escaped convict in The Defiant Ones, an African priest in Lilies Of The Field, a doctor in love with a white woman in Guess Whose Coming To Dinner, a young professional man kind to a white and blind woman in Patch Of Blue. And he was the passionate and desparate son, husband and father, on stage and screen, in Raisin In The Sun. In all these roles we see the significance of him and his art form, drama and its representation of the human condition. In two of his roles, he and his art, the man and his achievements can be summed up. As Virgil Tibbs in the first film, set in the Deep South of the United States, In The Heat Of The Night and its sequal They Call Me Mr. Tibbs, they do indeed call him that, which befits his position as a Police Detective, but also many names that reflect the prejudice that he, because of his colour, is subjected to with insults. In To Sir With Love, he is the school teacher in Britain, called “sir,” with respect, by an unruley but enthsiastic class. Whether he was called Mr or Sir, Mr. Poitier was also Sir Sidney, and Sidney Poitier inpired us on and off the stage or screen, in his life and work. He shall be missed but his legacy shall carry on. He is a cultural embodiment of that phrase spoken by the man he knew and campaigned with, Martin Luther King, someone judged not by the colour of his skin, but, by the content of his character. We give Sir Sidney Poitier the first Ustinov Prejudice Awareness Forum Award. This Awareness Award is given as a Commemoration with thanks.