A great actor, to be certain. He won an Academy Award for his performance in Lilies of the Field in 1964. He just happened to be the first black man to win the Best Actor prize. He earned numerous lifetime achievement awards, long before his life was through. He brought the struggle of black men and women to the forefront and never backed down. He never apologized. When he played Virgil Tibbs, a Philadelphia detective who is accused of murder in a little town in Georgia, he let the world know that this was not a moment when he would go quietly into the night. He confronted his accusers, solved the murder, and for a brief moment, brought understanding to the Deep South. In 1967. In 1968, he was the one you might by now have guessed was coming to dinner, confronting the reality of an interracial relationship to future in-laws Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. Mister Poitier then has to perform the same duty for his own parents. Keeping in mind that it was just the year before that United States Supreme Court had struck declared all prior anti-miscegenation state laws unconstitutional. It was for his activism as much as his acting that he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.
But the reason why Sidney Poitier will be forever in my heart is the way he showed up in the classroom. Way back in 1955, he played a tough kid in Mister Dadier's high school English class. The tough kid that eventually brings the band of misfits together to support their new teacher in a Blackboard Jungle.. Then, in 1967, he played Sir. Or more conventionally, he played Mark Thackeray, the new teacher at a school in London's East End, with a group of thugs every bit as unimpressed with him as he was with Mister Dadier a decade before. With his stern but attentive hand steering this new group of misfits, he brings out their best. In the end, after a year of trials and struggles with a decision to leave the school and pursue a career in engineering, he chooses to come back for the next year.
I get that.
I'm sure you probably know this, but Sidney Poitier lived to be nearly one hundred years old. I was lucky enough to see him tower over us all for all that time. He stomped on the Terra like he owned it, because he did. He will be missed. Aloha, Sidney.