LeVar Burton
Courtesy of Reading Rainbow

Overjoyed, ecstatic.

These words could be used to describe LeVar Burton's current emotions, inefficient and near nondescriptive as they may be in comparison to the star's real feelings in light of the success of his Kickstarter campaign to bring back the popular reading show Reading Rainbow as a digital app.


"It's still a bit overwhelming because it's so unexpected. It's just so unexpected," Burton told The Root, laughing gleefully while talking about the campaign that made $1 million—its initial goal—within 24 hours of launching, blowing everyone away with its success. "The first three days we averaged a million dollars a day."

The beloved actor, well-known for his roles in projects from Roots to Reading Rainbow to Star Trek: The Next Generation, made it clear that the status of the project currently—$3,378,932 in donations as of 1:20 p.m. June 3—is due mostly to those who gave what little they could.

"The majority of these donations are the $5 and the $10 and the $25, and I want to thank everybody who has donated $1," he insisted. "Please stop apologizing for not being able to give more because we're getting it done. We're going to be able to do so much good with this money."

"It's that first generation of Reading Rainbow kids, the '80s and '90s babies whom I feel like I had a hand in raising them," he added, his voice filled with pride. "To see them grow up and really want to give back and make sure the succeeding generations are able to have Reading Rainbow as an influence in their lives …. I'm enormously proud of the millennials because they've embraced it. This is their Kickstarter now. We started it, but it's y'all's now!"

So roughly $2.3 million past his goal, with a whopping 28 more days to go in the campaign, what plans does Burton and the rest of his group have for the extra dough?


Well, now Burton has his eyes set on another goal of $5 million. The extra money will go toward getting even more access for even more kids, one way or another.

"We know that with $5 million we can really lock down universal access," he told The Root. "We're only on two platforms right now. We're on the iPad … and the Kindle Fire. So with $5 million we can be on mobile devices, we can be on Android, which is really important. We can be on gaming consoles [like] Xbox. … So this is really huge for universal access, reaching as many kids as we can."


Of course there are always critics on the sidelines, regardless of the ventures, and Burton took the time to address some of the criticisms his Kickstarter campaign has faced.

"People are saying, 'What about kids who don't have the Internet?' " he said. "Well, 97 percent of American families have access to the Internet, and for a child whose family doesn't have access to the Internet, they are more likely than not able to access it through where? Their school."


"The first million was going to give us the ability to give the school product away to 1,500 classrooms; $5 million gives us the ability to give it away to 7,500 classrooms who can't afford it," Burton added. "This is really big. It's significant. We would be able to help significantly more kids discover the joys of literature and the written word with this additional money we have raised."

There were other criticisms pointing out that some people may have donated to the campaign thinking that the free TV show was going to come back, not a for-profit digital app. Burton was quick to address and dismiss those criticisms as well.


"We made it quite clear what we were doing, and if you didn't read the Kickstarter page it is easy to understand how you might be confused about what we’re doing," he said. "Television was the technology that we used back in the day. Why? Because that's where America's kids were hanging out! Today's kids are using today's technology, and if you want to reach them you've got to be on these devices. You've got to be in the digital realm."

"So we're doing the same thing that we've done for 31 years, next week. Reading Rainbow aired June 5, 1983. We've been doing this for 31 years, we know it works! We've proven with the app that it works for this generation. Kids come to the Reading Rainbow app reading 139,000 books a week. So given that, it was really important for us to expand our footprint and go for universal access," Burton added.


As for the fact that the Reading Rainbow experience is no longer "free," well, Burton points out, Reading Rainbow was never really free to begin with.

"That is a huge misunderstanding. It's a fallacy, first of all, and it's a huge misunderstanding of how public broadcasting works. Public broadcasting is made possible by the government, corporations and 'viewers like you.' There was no cost to the consumer, but it didn't mean it was free," the actor said. "Content costs money to create, yesterday, today, tomorrow. You don't make something out of nothing for nothing."


"What more can I do than try and give it away to classrooms and to schools that can't afford it? I'm a for-profit business. I can't afford to give it away to everybody for free. I would be out of business tomorrow," he said.

Luckily for Burton, that won't be a problem, thanks to the fans who have stood behind him.


"Between Roots and Star Trek and Reading Rainbow, I've had the opportunity to really be a part of examples of the popular culture that are more than just entertainment," Burton said humbly. "It was a very risky move to put this 30-year-old platinum brand at risk by asking very publicly for money. It could have gone horribly wrong. Thank God it didn't, but it could've. It was a calculated risk. So for me it makes good sense to try and leverage the variety of people out there who have enjoyed and benefited from what I do and have done."

"I feel like we're just getting started here. We have 29 days to go," he added.

And the legacy, especially for young kids of color, might well be worth it.

"I'm proud that kids for several generations and now several generations to come will be able to identify the love of the written word with the face of a black man. That is no small thing. When you think back to a couple of hundred years ago, it was illegal for us to read. It was an offense punishable by whipping or even death. It's no small thing. It's an amazing, amazing thing."


Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

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