Actor to aid foundation

Memorial: Half the proceeds from John Amos' production of `Halley's Comet' will go toward construction of the third phase of the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial at City Dock in Annapolis.

September 28, 2000|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Halley meets Haley on Sunday at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, when actor John Amos presents his one-man play, "Halley's Comet," in a benefit performance for the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation.

Amos, who portrayed enslaved African Kunta Kinte in "Roots," the television miniseries based on the late Haley's Pulitzer Prize-winning family chronicle, has toured internationally with the play he wrote about an 87-year-old man witnessing the passing of Halley's comet for the second time.

Since playing Kinte - which he calls his most important television role - Amos has maintained his connection with the "Roots" legacy as it has unfolded in Annapolis, where Kinte arrived from Gambia at City Dock in 1767.

Amos attended the December dedication of the second phase of the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial - bronze life-size statues of Haley reading to children - at City Dock, where he and the foundation president, Leonard Blackshear, began discussing the possibility of bringing "Halley's Comet" to Annapolis.

"It's really exciting that an internationally known celebrity is interested in a foundation out of Annapolis," said Michael Walsh, a member of the foundation's board.

Half of the proceeds from Amos' performance will go toward construction of the memorial's third phase: a world map on the ground near the Market House, with Annapolis at its center and a 10-panel story wall along Compromise Street.

Portrays many characters

"I am so appreciative of the opportunity I had to portray Kunta Kinte in that miniseries so many years ago," Amos said. "This is my small way of paying tribute to the work that Alex Haley did."

The rest of the proceeds will go to Amos' Halley's Comet Foundation, which he said teaches at-risk youth about "holistic benefits and experiences of sailing."

In his play, Amos, who is also known for his role as the father in the 1970s sitcom "Good Times," transforms into many characters as the elderly narrator tells the comet about the changes in his life and the world in the 76 years since it last neared Earth. Civil rights, two world wars, the golden age of radio, fast food and nuclear bombs are among the topics touched upon in the performance.

"Roots" also gets a nod from Amos in the play, as one of the character's sons is named Kunta.

But Blackshear said the connection between Roots and "Halley's Comet" does not stop there.

Amos' character "is an African-American, but the story he is telling is not just about African-Americans but about all people," he said. "That's exactly how Alex Haley wrote `Roots.' It was about African-Americans by an African- American, but it was for everybody and the world saw that and it was translated into 37 languages."

`Vindication of sorts'

Amos, 58, calls Haley "the greatest storyteller of all time" and said playing Kunta Kinte was "a vindication of sorts" after being one of the first black students to integrate his New Jersey grade school in 1950.

Though other roles may keep him away from Annapolis in the future, he calls the work of the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation "wonderful."

"Spiritually, I'll be with them every step of the way," he said.

Blackshear said the foundation expects to begin building the next phase of the memorial in the spring. The story wall, scaled back from 12 to 10 storyboards by the Historic Preservation Commission on Tuesday, will display the work of nationally and internationally known authors to be chosen this fall by a committee.

The first phase of the memorial, a plaque dedicated to Kinte that is believed to be the only memorial in the nation to an enslaved African, was installed in 1981.

The curtain for "Halley's Comet" will be at 3 p.m. with a reception at 5:30 p.m. Tickets for the performance are $25 for adults and $15 for children, and $20 more for the reception.

Information: the foundation, 410-841-6920.

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