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NEA Honors Reading Rainbow’s LeVar Burton with Friend of Education Award

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García: “LeVar is a champion of public education and believes that education will lead to a brighter and better future”

BOSTON - July 03, 2017 -

LeVar Burton, host of the long-running PBS children's series “Reading Rainbow,” and well known actor, director and author, received NEA’s highest honor today, the Friend of Education Award. Burton received the award from more than 7,500 educators gathered in Boston during the 2017 NEA Representative Assembly.

“LeVar is a champion of public education and truly believes, as we do, that education will lead to a brighter and better future for all of us,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “We are honored and grateful to call him NEA’s Friend of Education.”

“Through his leadership and two decades of work with Reading Rainbow, LeVar was instrumental in impacting an entire generation of readers,” she continued. “And through the relaunch of Reading Rainbow in an online format, he is continuing to make a positive impact on childhood literacy especially for those classrooms in high-needs areas.”

As the NEA pushes forward in its quest to raise awareness of institutional racism, Burton’s breakout performance in the 1977 series “Roots” also remains a game changer. As he noted: “It expanded the consciousness of people. Blacks and whites began to see each other as human beings, not as stereotypes.” Burton played the young Kunta Kinte in the award-winning “Roots” and Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”.

“Instilling the love of reading and learning in kids has been my lifetime’s work,” said Burton. “I’m honored to receive the NEA Friend of Education Award and I’m dedicated to pursuing new and imaginative ways in which our nation’s children can learn with grit and grace.”

Burton is now reaching a new generation of readers with Reading Rainbow Skybrary, a digital library, available online, on iPad, iPhone, Kindle Fire and Google Play. Skybrary features hundreds of books which children can read alone or hear from celebrity narrators. It is also filled with hundreds of educational video field trips.

The Friend of Education Award, presented each year during NEA’s Representative Assembly, recognizes a person or organization whose leadership, acts or support have significantly contributed to the improvement of American public education. Burton joins previous award recipients: Nobel-prize winners Malala Yousafzai and economist Paul Krugman; education policy writer and researcher Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond; leaders of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB); U.S. Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and William Jefferson Clinton; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.); U. S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley; Sen. Edward Ted” Kennedy.

“Congratulations, and thank you, for your commitment to our nation’s students and schools,” said Eskelsen García.

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators, and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT: Celeste Busser


NEA's 2017 Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly