An article in Forbes magazine said, “These days, stars are committing far more than a donation and cameo appearances at annual charity galas as part of their philanthropic work. For some, fame is an influential tool that can actually shape policy.”
The article added, “Celebrities get their phone calls returned.”
Well, not every celebrity is capable of shaping policy, but many do make a difference, if only to call attention to a situation that needs rectifying. No one could ever deny, for example, that Stevie Wonder was a key element in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday becoming a national holiday.
Wonder asked, “Why has there never been a holiday where peace is celebrated all throughout the world?”
Good question, and that was just one of Stevie Wonder’s many philanthropic endeavors.
OPRAH WINFREY, who was born into poverty, became the first black person to be cited by Businessweek as among the 50 most generous people in the United States.
When she gives, she does so in a very big way. For example, Winfrey has given over 400 scholarships to Morehouse College students and has given away something like $500 million to educational causes.
That is in addition to all of the financial support she has given by way of Oprah’s Angel Network Katrina, as well as the school she founded in Africa for girls, and much more.
Winfrey is also, as everyone knows, a highly influential endorser. She was the first megastar to endorse Barack Obama during his first run for the presidency. She made many people believe that a black man could, indeed, ascend to the highest office in this country, and in the process become the most powerful person in the world.
THIS STORY is not an attempt to recognize all of the celebrities who give generously financially and in terms of hands-on involvement — and not for self-aggrandizement either — because that would take up far more space than we have on these pages.
Rather, it is to spotlight a few as representative of the spirit of giving that can be found in the world of show business, although most likely not to the extent it should. Also, the focus is on philanthropy as opposed to the activism of, say, Harry Belafonte and Dick Gregory, although God bless them for what they do and have been doing for so many decades.
KERRY WASHINGTON, at a career peak with the success of “Scandal,” sits on the board of V-Day, an organization that works to end violence against women. In addition to being a supporter of gay rights, she is a member of the Creative Coalition. These actresses, actors, producers, musicians and writers explore important issues at the forefront of national discourse.
BRAD PITT and ANGELINA JOLIE are probably the most glamorous couple in Hollywood, but are also among the most humanitarian, always willing to contribute in whatever way they can — and, of course, their massive “star power” is a tremendous asset.
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Pitt donated millions of dollars of his own and raised tens of millions more to help rebuild the devastated city. He also is part of an outreach organization started by Bono called ONE campaign and co-founded Not on Our Watch with George Clooney.
Jolie has been a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations since 2001 and has used her celebrity status to call attention to refugees wherever in the world they can be found. She and husband Brad have adopted numerous children of various races.
GABRIELLE UNION knows the horror of being sexually molested because she was the victim of rape in her late teens. For that reason, she regularly lobbies for the federal government and state legislatures in an effort to raise funds for rape crisis centers.
Union shares her story often because she doesn’t want any women or girls to feel isolated or ashamed. In addition, she is active in the breast cancer fight.
ALICIA KEYS had a life-altering experience when she went to Africa in 2003 and saw firsthand the horrendous damage being done by the spread of AIDS. She has worked closely with Keep a Child Alive, an organization founded by the multifaceted Leigh Blake.
“Helping keep a child, mother, father, sister or brother alive means turning the worst epidemic in our lifetime into the greatest victory of our generation,” she said.
LADY GAGA meant every word when she sang, “There’s nothin’ wrong with lovin’ who you are ’cause He made you perfect…Don’t hide yourself in regret. Just love yourself and you’re set.” She created the Born This Way Foundation to encourage self-acceptance, tolerance and the freedom to express one’s self regardless of race, sexual orientation, physical appearance, beliefs, etc.