As discord in the United States reaches a deafening pitch, there's one thing that everybody — from red Republicans and blue Democrats to black-flag-wielding anarchists — can agree on: Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek's recent passing from cancer was tragic, and despite all the other squabbles we are embroiled in, we're grieving this loss together.
There's another thing people of all ideological stripes likely share: an undying admiration for LeVar Burton, who made his name playing Kunta Kinte in Roots and Geordi La Forge in Star Trek, and also inspired a love of literacy on the wholesome children's program Reading Rainbow. Most recently, he's been traveling to comics conventions and sharing his passion for books with adults on the LeVar Burton Reads podcast.
Burton's a gem. A legend. A moral and educational compass.
He's also being touted by tens of thousands of fans who have signed onto a change.org petition as Trebek's successor on Jeopardy!.
That petition was launched right here in Denver by the always-grinning DIY musician Joshua "Schwa" Sanders, from the dystopian folk band Fables of the Fall.
"I started the petition as kind of a joke," Sanders admitted to Westword early November 13. "That was less than four days ago. It’s up to 58,575 signatures at the moment."
The petition, addressed to Sony Entertainment, states:
Between hosting 21 seasons of the educational Reading Rainbow, playing the brainiac engineer Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: the Next Generation, and filling the roll of Kunta Kinte in the ever important mini-series Roots, LeVar Burton has inspired and shaped the minds of several generations of trivia-loving nerds. This petition is to show Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. and producers Mike Richards and Harry Friedman just how much love the public has for Burton, and how much we'd all love to see him as the next host of Jeopardy!
A longtime activist who has been rallying against climate change and in favor of a universal wage, Sanders is humored by how this effort has taken off, earning press nationwide.
"It’s interesting to see what types of things people actually care about," he says. But he's not cynical. "I’m all smiles every time I see a story about it."
And while the petition may have started in jest, he notes that Burton's importance in his life and that of millions of others should not be overlooked. "He really has shaped everybody," Sanders says. "He’s got such a wholesome personality. He educates people to read. Reading Rainbow was designed to help with reading comprehension loss for kids over the summer. I love that. I watched that show all the time when I was a kid."
Burton, who has teased the idea of hosting Jeoporady! in the past, has been tweeting enthusiastically about the campaign. "Even if nothing comes from it, I can’t tell how much I appreciate all y’alls love and support!
" he wrote, sharing the petition.
Later, he also tweeted: "Of course while I’m very flattered by the petition, my thoughts are definitely with Alex Trebeck’s [sic] family and his millions of fans and the devastating loss of this irreplaceable legend."
While Burton's right that Trebek is irreplaceable, Sanders and thousands of others are correct in noting that giving Burton one more platform to share his love of knowledge and literacy would be a boon for the world and perhaps the only thing that could save the show.
"It was a low-effort way to make something cool happen," says Sanders. "I’ve enjoyed watching this little thing I did go viral. It’s amazing. It would be great. I can't think of anybody who would be better than LeVar Burton."
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