Meet Sidney Poitier's Dinner Guests
Among those guests was Dawnn, a single mom from San Diego who says she used Sidney's book as a guide to raising her two sons.
"At 23, I was a divorced mother of two young sons. As a single young mother, I stressed education, community service and spirituality," Dawnn wrote.
Feeling it was important to expose her sons to as many opportunities as possible, Dawnn says she started her own consulting business and dedicated much of her time to helping others in the community. "With all of the community work, I never lost focus and continued to make my children my priority," she says. "When my son was accepted into the University of California—Berkeley School of Engineering, I knew the family team we built had become a success."
Eventually, Philip decided to return to school. He is now a volunteer teacher in New York City, where a debate over quality education rages. "I decided to go back to school because I wanted my life to be about more than waiting for the next 'big break' or chasing a dream where someone else gets to decide my full potential. It seems marginal in comparison, while kids around me are being denied access to an education that I walked away from," he says.
Sidney's book inspired Philip to be the best mentor he can be for his students, and he's assigned his class of inner city teen boys to read The Measure of a Man to inspire them as well.
"Even though the only thing we have in common is the color of our skin, his stories and breadth of honor and self-worth has touched me like no other book has. I understand that I am raising men, not boys, and want them to walk through life with their heads held high and their feet firmly planted in the ground of moral dignity and racial pride," Tommy writes.
A devoted fan of Sidney Poitier's since childhood, Betsy says two movies influenced her life. "First, he made such an impression on me in To Sir, with Love, that I vowed I would become a teacher and touch kids' lives—and I did," Betsy writes. "Then, his work touched my own life again in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and at the age of 38, I married a man nearly as dignified and with almost as much 'presence' as Mr. Poitier himself—my husband, John Lane Jr. He's black, I'm white, yet lucky for us our parents were all immediately supportive of our relationship. What was obvious to everyone was how similar John and I are underneath our skin, where things really count."
Raised by a single working mother, Tiffany says one of the most meaningful experiences of her childhood was watching To Sir, with Love. "My mother explained to me how important Mr. Poitier was in that he transcended stereotypical black Hollywood roles (whereby the implication alone required a certain level of strength and determination that he had in turning down roles that didn't meet the highest level of standard)," Tiffany writes. "My mother also made Mr. Poitier my childhood example when it came to the importance of being articulate and well presented—even in the face of being accused of 'trying to be white' or 'talking white.' Undoubtedly, Mr. Poitier is one of the most sophisticated people around, and it's not even in a pretentious sense but in a confident and competent one."
As she read, she began to make personal connections. "I found myself weeping at times while I read the book because of the sameness of the human condition. For so long in my life, I have carried so much shame over ridiculous teenage behaviors, my divorce and my unkind moments, yet this is in direct contradiction to not only who I want to be, but also to my role in my community," she writes. "How can an imperfect person who has made so many mistakes continue the pretense of being a role model for others? What a wonderful thing it was to read the words on page 214, '…if the image one holds of one's self contains elements that don't square with reality, one is best advised to let go of them.' A major lightbulb moment for me!"