This year we saw the passing of the actor and filmmaker Sidney Poitier. He was the original quintessential black film star of the 1950s and 60s who was tall, handsome and oozed confidence and charm.

I recently watched Oprah’s documentary of his life and felt moved, inspired and impressed by his achievements and values.

He was born in 1927 to Evelyn and Reginald Poitier and, at 15, went to live with family in Miami. But, growing up in the Bahamas, a black-majority country, he had no concept of race. And therefore, had a sense of himself that conflicted with how black people in America were treated and saw themselves.

Here’s what I learned about living a life with purpose and value:

✳️ Have the courage to go against the grain
Sidney’s early movies were revolutionary, challenging stereotypes of black people. In “No Way Out,” his first film, he played a black doctor and had equal billing with Tony Curtis in the “Defiant Ones”, which was a first for Poitier.

He was the first black man to win an Academy Award for best actor in “Lilies of the Field,” and was such a box office success that he could demand a change in scripts, which happened in the film – “In The Heat of the Night” (1967), where he returned a slap to a white man being questioned. Unheard of by an African American – at that time – that act of retaliation proved to be historic.

✳️ Hold firm to your values:
When his first wife, Juanita, was expecting their second child Pamela, he was offered a role in the film Phoenix which would have earned him more than he had made that year. There was a scene in which a black child was left dead on the porch.

He was broke but refused the role because he later said, “my father would not have allowed his child to be thrown upon the lawn and not have something to say about it.” “I cannot play that part if I am the son of the man I believe I am. I could not play that if my mother is the mother, I think she was.”.

✳️ Grow and constantly challenge yourself:
He left acting to become a filmmaker, which led to films like Uptown Saturday Night, Let’s do it again and Stir Crazy, which was the first movie by a Black director to gross over $100 million.

✳️ Make room for others:
There was a time when no African Americans were on a film set, and Sidney facilitated many black people to develop careers behind the camera.

I believe Sidney Poitier was at the vanguard, and Morgan Freeman said it perfectly, “he was the lighthouse.” Listening to contributors like Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Lulu, Barbara Streisand, and Robert Redford, it is true.

I’ll leave the last word to Sidney; “I’ve come a long way and am proud of that. I am here to be the best grandfather, great-grandfather, and father, I try to be a better human being, and when I die, I will not be afraid of having lived. ”

What a life! Sidney Poitier – 1927- 2022