Acting Legend Sidney Poitier Visits CSU RiverPark

Two-time Academy Award winner Sir Sidney Poitier made a rare public appearance Oct. 29 when he visited Columbus, met with CSU students, toured the universitys new $35 million riverfront art and theatre complex and attended a benefit reception.

SidneyDapper, introspective and unfailingly polite, Poitier impressed each of his audiences.

When touring the new spaces for the art and theatre departments, scheduled to open to students in January, Poitier asked many questions and was awed by the new facilities Columbus State University is building for the arts.

I applaud you guys for doing this, he said. Im impressed. This (theatre) is an ideal size, and your proximity to Atlanta and other space makes this location ideal. If (students) can do here what is artistically and commercially possible elsewhere, thats just great.

Poitier ended his tour of the complex in the new art gallery, where about 100 students and faculty members waited. Thunderous applause greeted Poitier when he entered the room, and they were delighted to be able to ask him questions.

He seemed to embody everything he represents on screen in terms of politeness and respect, said Tim McGraw, acting chair of the theatre department. He was very, very interested in how all of the new equipment and facilities will affect the students.

For theatre major Rearcous Smith, seeing Poitier and asking him a question was just the most inspiration experience that Ive ever gone through.

It was great, Smith said. Just being in the same room with this man who has done so much, it was just incredible. And how significant is it that he walked through and christened our spaces with his presence?

Later that night, Poitier gave an inside look into his own youth and life to an invited audience at the RiverCenter. Speaking eloquently and making jokes, Poitier told of his upbringing in the Bahamas, the trouble he found as a boy and the kind people who helped him throughout his life. He lamented about never thanking the police officer who, after arresting him for sleeping in a train station, gave him 50 cents and sent him to an orphanage. Or the New York waiter who stayed after work every night to help Poitier, then a dishwasher, learn to read better with the daily newspaper.

Dr. Emory Alexander, a CSU Foundation trustee and director of the RiverCity Orthopedic and Spine Center, and his wife, Alicia, brought Poitier to Columbus. Alexander said close friends in Hollywood were able to help arrange the visit.

Alexander said he wanted to bring an iconic figure to town to highlight CSUs role in the arts community, especially with its new art and theatre complex.

We really wanted to do something to recognize the grandeur and enormity of this project, Alexander said.