As a celebrity, it’s easy to get caught up in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and forget about underserved communities. We hear the story all the time, of how many Black celebrities come from humble beginnings and make it big. They get out of the trenches, sign some amazing deal, and cash a check without actually working to further the advancement of their communities as well as other causes that may need more recognition. Often times they forget to look back or contribute to community activism.
That’s not what this post is about.
The disproportionate number of violent acts perpetrated by our police force on Black Americans has put a spotlight on community activism. Where do you stand? That’s the question, and we want to know the answer! There are always those celebrities that go above and beyond for whatever cause they may be passionate about. There are those who have notably done the groundwork to promote effective change. Some of these unsung heroes do their work amidst their already planned busy schedules to ensure that the voices of the lost don’t go unheard.
Oh to be Gabrielle Union, an unproblematic, beautiful black actress. Well, she’s more than this folks! Aside from acting on hit shows, and starring in many movies including classics from when she was young up to now, she lends her voice to numerous causes. She serves as an Ambassador for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, as well as survivor groups (caa.com).
Additionally, she can be trusted to address issues within the black community, like in the case of Trayvon Martin. She used her influence heavily and spoke out against the apparent injustice. Union also made a brave move when sharing her personal abuse story in her book “We’re going to Need More Wine,” as well during several interviews throughout her career. This shows how deep her passion for the subject runs. This queen is a perfect example of how a celebrity should use their voice by her constant dedication to speaking out and going above and beyond.
J. Cole, a rapper and producer, is the founder of Dreamville Weekend. This is a time to appreciate good music in one of Raleigh’s most beautiful neighborhoods with a history behind it. One of the objectives of this celebration is to have a pragmatic and solid economic and cultural effect on the city and its outskirts.
As a part of the effort to help urban youth "have a dream, believe in their dream and achieve their dream," there are events dedicated to the leaders of the community, and panels of successful black people for the youth to learn from.
Along with the Dreamville festival, his first song this year, “Snow on tha Bluff”, was a response to the racism and protests across the nation, as he shared his frustration and anger that the rest of the community felt as well. This was the same case with his song “Be Free”, and others he's made throughout his career. J Cole was also in attendance at a protest in his hometown, Fayetteville. I think we could all appreciate a humbled, yet super successful rapper.
It always amazes me when I think about how much Rihanna gets accomplished. Between her Fenty makeup line, Fenty designer collection, her Savage x Fenty lingerie, and philanthropy/ community service, it seems like she has more hours in the day than the rest of us. Nope! This is just a testament to how amazing she truly is. Not only is she outspoken about important issues like education, women's rights, and HIV awareness, but the entrepreneur has also made it her mission to make the world a better place through her philanthropic efforts. A true icon!
In 2012, RiRi started the Clara Lionel Foundation, a non- profit organization that funds groundbreaking education as well as emergency preparedness and response programs around the world. The foundation even donated $5 million dollars this past March to Covid- 19 response efforts.
At the 2020 NAACP Image Awards, Rihanna was named the President’s Award recipient and gave a memorable speech.
She emphasized the fact that other white and non- black people want to work and get money with you but are silent during these trying times, and are not involved in advocating for change. “Tell your friends to pull up,” she said.
Derrick Johnson, president, and CEO of NAACP stated, "From her business achievements through Fenty to her tremendous record as an activist and philanthropist, Rihanna epitomizes the type of character, grace, and devotion to justice that we seek to highlight in our President's Award” (CNN.com).
Where was the lie? Rihanna is so popular, not only for the products she sells but also for the heart and soul that she puts into whatever she does. We can all stand to be a little bit more like her.
On a more local level, celebrities from the DMV (D.C., Maryland & Virginia), and in the DMV, are focusing their talents on issues that are important to them, as well as using them to uplift local youth. Coach Stu Vetter is one of the top coaches in the history of high school basketball, with over 800 wins to his name. He is the architect of 4 nationally ranked programs: Flint Hill, Harker Prep, St John’s Prospect Hall, and Montrose Christian. His program has produced over 100 Division I players, Eight NBA players, and he was twice named National Coach of the Year by USA Today. He offers summer basketball camps that take place throughout Northern Virginia and Maryland. Camps are designed for boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 18 of all skill levels. The concept of the basketball camp is to teach the fundamentals of basketball as well as life. These camps are a perfect way to keep your kids active, fit, and disciplined while also having fun. Campers are grouped by skill level and groups are small to allow for individual instruction. Every session is conducted in Air Conditioned Gyms and will include instruction, drills, competition, guest lecturers (including former players and current professional players), and prizes.
Taraji P. Henson, born and raised in Washington D.C., founded the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation. This nonprofit was founded in 2018 to honor Henson’s father, Boris Lawrence Henson, who suffered from mental illness as a result of his tour of duty in the Vietnam War. The organization, led by Executive Director, Tracie Jade Jenkins, is committed to changing the narrative about mental illness in the black community. The goal is to encourage those who suffer from mental illness to get the help they need and view it as something as serious as a physical illness.
These are just a few of the celebrities that come to mind when we think of philanthropic contributions. Amid a sea of plaques, awards, and achievements it’s nice to shed light on those that are doing their part.