LeVar Burton made his acting debut in 1977 when he played Kunta Kinte in the ABC award-winning drama series Roots, based on the novel by Alex Haley. Burton's audition for the role of Kinte was the first of his professional career. As a result of his performance, he was nominated for the Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama Series. Burton reprised the role of Kunta Kinte in the 1988 television film Roots: The Gift. When asked about the societal impacts ofRoots, Burton is quoted as saying, "It expanded the consciousness of people. Blacks and whites began to see each other as human beings, not as stereotypes. And if you throw a pebble into the pond, you're going to get ripples. I think the only constant is change, and it's always slow. Anything that happens overnight is lacking in foundation. Roots is part of a changing trend, and it's still being played out."
Burton was host and executive producer of Reading Rainbow starting in 1983 for PBS. The series ran for 23 seasons, making it one of the longest running children's programs on the network. Furthermore, the series garnered over 200 broadcast awards over its run, including a Peabody Award and 26 Emmy Awards, 11 of which were in the "Outstanding Children's Series" category. Burton himself won 12 Emmy awards as host and producer of the show.
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In 1986, Gene Roddenberry approached Burton with the role of the then Lieutenant Junior Grade Geordi La Forge in the Star Trek: The Next Generation television series. La Forge is blind, but is granted "sight" through the use of a prosthetic device called a VISOR, which is worn over his eyes. La Forge started out serving as the USS Enterprise's helmsman, and as of the show's second season, had become its Chief Engineer.
Burton also portrayed La Forge in the subsequent feature films based on Star Trek: The Next Generation, beginning with Star Trek: Generations in 1994 through 2002's Star Trek: Nemesis.