Voice of Influence

Actor, activist, and online icon George Takei inspires students to be agents of change.

By Meredith Camel
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (December 05, 2013) — George Takei is well known for his role as Mr. Sulu in the original Star Trek television and film series, but it’s really the pursuit of civil rights that inspires him to “boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Takei brought his message of social and political activism to more than 400 University of Miami students on Tuesday, December 3, at the Student Activities Center in “An Evening with George Takei.”

The event was sponsored by several student organizations, including the LGBTQ group SpectrUM. Jacob Rudolph, a freshman music business major and SpectrUM outreach chair, was instrumental in arranging Takei’s visit. The two met last year on Anderson Live, when television anchor Anderson Cooper interviewed Rudolph about his viral “coming out” video, then surprised Rudolph with a visit from Takei.

Takei’s UM talk began with memories of a childhood spent in an Arkansas internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II. His early heroes were the Japanese Americans who joined the U.S. military despite the injustices they suffered. His forthcoming Broadway musical, Allegiance, sheds light on this dark chapter of American history. In the years that followed, Takei’s father, a frequent political campaign volunteer, gave his son an enduring piece of wisdom: “This is a people’s democracy, and it can be as great as people are or as fallible as people are.”

Takei’s commitment to activism took him from political campaigns to the March on Washington to the Vietnam anti-war movement and beyond. During the 1980s AIDS crisis, he donated money for research and marched in walks, but always under the cloak of an LGBT “ally.”

“I was active on all the issues—except one,” said Takei, who lived in fear his gay identity would harm his acting career. In 2005, when then-governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation that would have granted same-sex couples the right to marry, Takei reached a tipping point. With full support from his husband, Brad, he told the world, “It’s OK to be Takei.”

Following his talk, Takei answered student comments and questions, including gratitude for Takei’s witty Facebook posts (he has more than 5 million followers), advice on spreading the message of equality, and curiosities about the ways Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry used the show as a metaphor for cultural diversity. Roddenberry, a former UM student, designed the Sulu character specifically for an Asian actor, while other USS Enterprise crew members would represent other geographic regions of Earth.

George Takei with UM student Jacob Rudolph.

When asked how young people can overcome a sense of apathy toward political involvement, Takei said, “I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for one young man,” referring to Jacob Rudolph. “You’ve got to influence the people who say, ‘My vote doesn’t count.’ Dr. Martin Luther King was only one person, but he had a voice, and it was the voice of an angel who could affect so many people.”

Meredith Camel can be reached at 305-284-1616.

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