I was with Mr. Poitier in 2005 in Benin, Africa. I remember being surprised when he told me it was his first trip to Western Africa. After all, he was an Oscar-winning actor, director, ambassador and civil rights activist.
In Benin on the Atlantic coast, our driver took us, unplanned, to see an arched memorial on the beach where chained and beaten young people were, not so many decades before, loaded on ships to be sold in America. I will never forget how he stepped out of the car almost before it stopped and walked, in that dignified erect way he seems to have always carried himself, across the sand. On the beach where the waves lapped near his feet, he stood, arms akimbo, and gazed across the ocean. He stood that way deep in thought for several minutes. The rest of us stayed back, intuitively respectful of the moment, no words were spoken. No words were necessary.
After a time we returned the few miles back to the closest village where, under the baobab tree, Africa’s tree of life, Mr. Poitier rolled up his sleeves and helped vaccinate children against measles. I’ve never met a more dignified man, a gentle yet determined soul.