At the age of 17, LeVar Burton was on a path to the priesthood, having entered seminary three years earlier. But Burton began questioning the Catholic point of view, and he did not receive satisfying answers from his elders. He decided to change his trajectory, and landed on acting.
Two years later, as an undergraduate at the University of Southern California, Burton got a role acting alongside Cicely Tyson and Maya Angelou in Roots, the TV miniseries. “They schooled me,” he said. He’d go on to act in Star Trek: The Next Generation and to host PBS’s Reading Rainbow.
I spoke to Burton recently about serving the greater community, his calling to the priesthood, and his advice for young people dealing with the challenges that can come with extraordinary success. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Lola Fadulu: You were born in Germany. How long did you live there?
LeVar Burton: We came back to the States when I was a year old, and then went again when I was in the third and fourth grade for another two years. So it is [my father’s] second tour of duty that I actually remember.
Fadulu: What do you remember about it?
Burton: Oh my gosh, I remember so many things. I remember our first apartment, which was what they called “on the economy,” which simply meant that it was in town. It wasn’t on the military base itself. This was the 1960s and the Allies had been in Germany since the end of World War II, so there was a constant influx of GIs and their families going there. I remember the beer man who came and delivered beer, just like they delivered milk.