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Remember when, a few months ago, LeVar Burton — best-known as an actor for his roles in Roots and Star Trek: The Next Generation — launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring back the iconic PBS children’s show, Reading Rainbow? The goal was to raise $1 million over the course of 30 days, but the campaign ended up reaching and exceeding its goal in an astounding 11 hours. Shortly after the goal was passed, Burton posted a YouTube video tearfully expressing his gratitude for the unexpected and sudden support. In total, over $5 million was raised by the time the campaign ended. My friend, the hilarious author and comedienne Sara Benincasa, was one of those Reading Rainbow fans who contributed, and her generous donation of $600 scored her a future Skype session with LeVar himself. Well, that Skype session was last night, and, knowing that we’re both Star Trek nerds and LeVar fans, Sara invited me and her boyfriend (you know him as John DeVore) to be by her side when LeVar rang. Photographing or videoing the Skype call was off-limits, but it didn’t matter: I will never forget just how wonderful LeVar Burton was and is.
I’ve met, interviewed, and given lap dances to a lot of celebrities in my various publishing jobs over the years, some of whom were lovely and easy to talk to, others were total nightmares, and plenty were just meh. But no one has ever come across as kind, genuine, and compassionate as LeVar Burton did in that 10-minute Skype session. The four of us chatted about Reading Rainbow (he thought that goat people episode was surreal too), books (he’s currently reading the black female sci-fi writer Octavia Butler), and the impact a show like RR had on kids who felt like the show assured them it was cool to love to read. LeVar (I’m sorry, I feel like we’re friends, I have to call him by his first name or it will be weird) remembered the note Sara had sent along with her donation and said it made him cry. And then he actually wiped tears from his eyes in real time. We made him cry, you guys.
The most moving and surreal moment for me came when I told LeVar that I’ve been a Star Trek fan since I was a little kid and that I had been especially obsessed with The Next Generation, even writing a 250-page fan fiction book when I was 12.
“Geordi [La Forge — his character on TNG for you non-nerds] was a character in it, of course. Not gonna lie, the writing is pretty fantastic,” I said jokingly.
Perhaps I’m overdramatizing this, but what he said next made my stomach drop.
“Amelia!” he almost exclaimed suddenly. “Was Star Trek something you shared with your dad, that you bonded over?”
Growing up, my dad told me bedtime stories set in the fictional Star Trek universe, in which I was always a central character. We went to two Star Trek conventions together and watched The Next Generation every week. He was the biggest champion of my writing, especially my Star Trek fan-fiction opus. Over the years, our relationship went through a lot — he had big-time mental health and drug addiction issues — and at times were estranged or just weirdly uncomfortable with each other, but one subject we could always turn to when there was nothing to say was Star Trek.
“Oh, my God, yes. How did you know?” I asked LeVar. The way he had asked me indicated he already knew the answer, like he knew things about me and I couldn’t understand how.
“I just had a sense that was the case,” he said, as if such totally psychic moments happen all the time when he’s Skyping with fans (and maybe they do — maybe LeVar does have some sixth sense). He talked about how awkward father-daughter relationships can be, especially during the tween/teen years, and that it’s crucial to find something to bond over. “For my daughter and I, it was always video games. I just had a sense that it was Star Trek for you and your dad.”
My dad died a couple years ago, as longtime Frisky readers know, and while I’m not a believer in God or heaven and am pretty doubtful about the existence of spirits/ghosts, I’ve found myself looking for “signs” that my dad is looking out for me — or not. We weren’t speaking when he passed away, and I carry some guilt about that, though intellectually I know I had good reasons for ceasing communication — but I also didn’t know at the time that he was going to die and would have done differently, I think, if I had. Anyway, LeVar just knowing about my dad and our bond over Star Trek felt a little like a sign, like my dad was in his ear, telling him something he wouldn’t otherwise know. For that brief moment, it felt like he really knew me.
That alone made my heart feel full, but what LeVar said next almost made it burst:
“Amelia, I love you,” he said emphatically. “And I wish such wonderful things for you. You deserve it.”
It felt like a blessing. Thank you so much, LeVar Burton, not just for your kindness toward me and my friends, but for all that you do for children and mankind.
Reprinted with permission from the Frisky. Want more? Check out these related stories: