As a teenager growing up in Sacramento, LeVar Burton felt a call to become a priest.
His mother was an English teacher and social worker, and her life of service inspired him. While studying to join the Catholic Church as a priest, Burton joined a school play and realized the power of performance and storytelling.
Burton quickly diverted his attention from the priesthood and enrolled at USC to study theater arts. There, he was cast in his first of many iconic roles: Kunta Kinte in the “Roots” miniseries.
“From the first moment I was exposed to the character, I knew who he was,” Burton said. “He was in me.”
In this episode of “LA Stories,” Burton talks to host Giselle Fernandez about how important “Roots” was to society and how he sees similarities between the show’s impact upon its release and the racial reckoning to which we face today in America.
“We keep coming back to this moment because we haven’t done the necessary work,” he said.
After playing Kunta Kinte, Burton was cast in another breakthrough role: Geordi La Forge in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” He says the role was important to him because he didn’t see many sci-fi characters who looked like him.
“I can’t tell you how important representation is,” he said. “Representation matters.”
Burton also talks about his many years as host of “Reading Rainbow.” For him, storytelling, literacy, and education are among the most important qualities in life, and the show has allowed him to share those values with children across the United States.
“It was an effort to use television media, the dominant technology at the time, to bring children back to the written word,” he said.
Today, Burton continues to spread the word through his passion for reading and storytelling. He has a podcast called “LeVar Burton Reads”, a children’s book called “The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm” and a book club on the Fable app.
Soon, Burton will host “Trivial Pursuit.”
“I feel like I’m part of a great, noble tradition of storytelling as a way to help us, humanity, navigate this thing we call life,” he said. “I just want to keep telling stories in any way I can because that’s what I was born to do.”
Watch “LA Stories with Giselle Fernandez” at 9 p.m. every Monday on Spectrum News 1.