NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Sidney Poitier’s celebrated career had a profound impact on African-American families.
His achievements on screen and his activism were a source of pride.READ MORE: Judge Sentences Duane Costa To 25 Years To Life For Shooting At 4 Nassau County Police Officers
The marquee of the Apollo Theater remembered Sidney Poitier, who died Friday at age 94. It’s a place where the actor made history in the 1950s as part of “The Detective Story,” the first dramatic play to be shown on the stage.
Poitier was the first Black movie star, breaking barriers not just with his presence on screen, but the depth he brought to his roles, introducing the world to a humanity of the African-American experience.
“I’m devastated. I know in reality we all have to go. He left a legacy for other Black men and people of color to follow,” Harlem resident Stephanie Willis said.
WATCH: Fans From Harlem To Hollywood Remember Legendary Actor, Activist Sidney Poitier —
“Mama had me watching it and we learned. He taught us what we had to deal with in this society during the ’50s and the ’60s, and that gave me the strength to do and be the kind of person that I am right now,” Harlem resident Hector Manuel Burbon said.
“Even when I was younger, I got a good feeling behind seeing a Black person on screen. Most of the time we were looking at Caucasians or what have you,” Harlem resident Ron Watson said.
As CBS2’s Aundrea Cline-Thomas reports, before Hollywood and the accolades, Harlem was the main character in Poitier’s early story, right in the basement of what’s now known as the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture.READ MORE: Gov. Hochul Unveils New Terminal B At LaGuardia Airport After Massive $4 Billion Renovation
The American Negro Theater gave Poitier his start, albeit a rocky one. He was rejected during his first auditions.
“He came back, actually offering to do janitorial work so he could become part of this august group of Black actors,” said Joy Bivins, director of the Schomburg Center.
It was at the theatre where Poitier developed a close friendship with Harry Belafonte. Other alums include Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee and Clarice Taylor.
“When you are groomed and encouraged and nurtured in your community … They have instilled values in you that you reflect in the projects that you choose,” Bivins said.
Projects from Broadway to the big screen, intentionally portraying characters with depth and a humanity counter to the narrative of the time, and during the Civil Rights Movement, using his voice for activism.
“He brought some positivity to the Black image of the people as an actor, as a human being, as a person,” Harlem resident Paulo Brown said.
“I think it was great to see a Black person, but he was a hell of an actor, too,” Watson said.MORE NEWS: Remembering Officer Rivera: Wake Held For 22-Year-Old Killed In Line Of Duty In Harlem
An example of excellence with an impact that’s still being felt today.