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As the age-old saying goes, you never forget where you come from. Some of the most famous Black celebrities come from the humblest of beginnings and, rather than leaving their roots behind for the glam and glitz of Hollywood lights, they've used their wealth and influence to reinvest in the Black communities that continually uplift them. Celebrities like Beyoncé, LeBron James, Queen Latifah and more have used their superstar status to bring awareness to issues that have long-plagued Black communities, as well as provide real-time support when disaster strikes.
From launching initiatives that focus on racial inequality in health care to creating schools, donating money, providing supplies, building safe spaces for children and more, here are several Black celebrities who have put in the work to support their communities.
The Respect actress has dealt with a lot of tragedy in her life. In 2008, Hudson's mother, brother, and nephew were murdered by her sister’s estranged husband. In honor of her nephew's memory, the singer and her sister, Julia, established the Julian D. King Gift Foundation. It provides stability, support and positive experiences for children to help them become productive, confident and happy adults. The organization regularly collects and distributes school supplies, toys, and clothes for children in need.
In August, the foundation held its 10th annual Hatch Day, delivering over 2,000 backpacks full of school supplies, face masks, hand sanitizer and tablets to help students in Chicago amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"We're still out there this Hatch Day, just in a different way. We're going to hit these streets and sneak up on y'all. And we're going to drive by with backpacks, because we don't need crowds this year, but we will want to make sure we service the children," Hudson explained in a video on her Instagram.
"My mother always taught us that without family you have nothing, and whether you know it or not, all are family, and what happens to the other, happens to us, so it's very important to make a difference," she said, accepting the honor. "It's one thing to be a celebrity and have power ... but it means nothing if we're not helping someone else."
The Los Angeles Laker is well known for using his platform off the court to give back and enact change. He helped organize an NBA strike following the shooting of Jacob Blake last August -- which led to the league establishing a social justice coalition and agreeing to convert several arenas into polling stations. He's been incredibly vocal with his calls for social justice, even redirecting questions during the NBA's first press conference about their return to the game to shed light on the murder of Breonna Taylor.
In 2004, he created the LeBron James Family Foundation, whose mission is to positively affect the lives of children and young adults in his hometown of Akron through education and co-curricular educational initiatives. In 2017, the foundation partnered with the Akron Public School District to open the groundbreaking I Promise School, dedicated to at-risk students at the elementary school level. He's also partnered with the University of Akron to guarantee four-year college scholarships to all eligible students who graduate from high school and complete the criteria. James has pledged to send up to 2,300 kids to school, potentially creating a $105 million commitment.
"Growing up in the inner city, the numbers are always stacked up against you," James said during a 2018 ESPN interview about his foundation's new school. "So you didn't really know what was possible. I think what happened for me was that I got some mentors and little league coaches and some teachers that I kind of started to believe in. And they started to make my dreams feel like they could actually become a reality."
Under the umbrella of James' I Promise nonprofit, the school takes a holistic approach to ensure the students succeed inside the classroom, at home, and in their community. "At the I Promise School, our goal is to let every single kid know they are special," James told People in April 2020. "That they can be whatever they want to be. And that starts with addressing everything they're going through before they even step foot in a classroom."
Although she rarely talks about it, Beyoncé has been blessing the world with more than just her vocal prowess for a long while. The GRAMMY-winning artist launched the BeyGOOD foundation in 2013, working with several campaigns over the years to provide aid for people all over the world.
In 2015, she traveled to Haiti with U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos to hand out food and water to residents still struggling after the earthquake hit its capital in 2010. In 2017, she helped her hometown of Houston, Texas, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey's devastation.
"BeyGOOD recognizes the immense mental and personal health burdens being placed on essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic," a statement on her website read. "In our major cities, African-Americans comprise a disproportionate number of workers in these indispensable occupations, and they will need mental health support and personal wellness care, including testing and medical services, food supplies and food deliveries, both during and after the crisis."
A vocal advocate for racial justice and systemic change, it's no surprise that Legend has put his money where his mouth is and founded the Show Me Campaign in 2007. The organization pledges to help end the cycle of poverty by giving every child access to quality education. Through programs such as Teach for America, Teach for All, Harlem Village Academies, and New Profit, the campaign works to elevate and celebrate teachers, "the single most important factor for student achievement in our schools."
In 2015, Legend launched a five-year campaign called #FreeAmerica through the Show Me Campaign to reduce mass incarceration rates in the United States and to reverse the school-to-prison pipeline. The campaign pledges to shift the public narrative on incarceration and support state and federal policy reforms that cut incarceration levels and redirect savings into concrete investments in education, rehabilitation, and effective re-entry services.
In December, Legend was awarded a human rights prize by the United Nations in recognition of his social justice advocacy work. "I believe in the power of music to inspire us, to connect our hearts, to give voice to feelings for which words alone won't suffice, to wake us up out of complacency, to galvanize and fuel social movements," he said in a statement.
"Artists have a rich tradition of activism. We have a unique opportunity to reach people where they are, beyond political divisions, borders, and silos. And it's been my privilege to use my voice and my platform to advance the cause of equity and justice."
In February 2020, Rihanna was the recipient of the NAACP President’s Award. During her speech, she pleaded with those in attendance to work together to bring change to the world, saying, "If there's anything that I've learned, it's that we can only fix this world together. We can't do it divided. I cannot emphasize that enough. We can't let the de-sensitivity seep in. The, 'If it's your problem, then it's not mine; It's a woman's problem; It's a Black people problem; It's a poor people problem."
She added: "I mean, how many of us in this room have colleagues and partners and friends from other races, sexes, religions? Show of hands. Well, they want to break bread with you, right? They like you? Well, then this is their problem, too. So when we're marching and protesting and posting about the Michael Brown juniors and Atatiana Jeffersons of the World, tell your friends to pull up."
Rihanna's backyard may be Barbados, but she's always down to help wherever its needed. The multi-hyphenate mogul founded the Clara Lionel Foundation in honor of her grandparents, Clara and Lionel Braithwaite, in 2012. The organization aims to "reach across borders to fight together for basic rights to education and health." It funds education and response programs around the world to improve the quality of life, including the Clara Braithwaite Center for Oncology and Nuclear Medicine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Barbados.
Throughout the pandemic, Rihanna has worked through the foundation to help marginalized communities affected domestically and worldwide. Last March, Rihanna teamed up with JAY-Z and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey to fund $6.2 million in grants to support communities in New York City and the Los Angeles area. In April, she donated to support COVID-19 rapid response efforts in New Orleans, the Caribbean and Africa.
When he's not doling out hits, the GRAMMY-winning rapper is giving his time back to the city that raised him. In 2016, he donated $1 million to Chicago Public Schools to help with the district budget crisis. Then, in August of that year, he co-founded the non-profit organization SocialWorks with his longtime friends, Justin Cunningham and Essence Smith.
According to its mission statement, the organization aims to empower students through the arts, education and civic engagement, as well as offering safe spaces to highlight Chicago's artistic community. Its programming focuses on education, mental health, homelessness, and performing and literary arts with initiatives such as OpenMike, Warmest Winter, Kids of the Kingdom, The New Chance: Arts & Literature Fund, and My State of Mind. It raises money for social issues that affect the city’s most at-risk youth and donates $10,000 for every additional $100,000 raised.
By 2020, its fifth anniversary, the organization raised $8 million, including $2 million donated by Chance himself.
Aiming to battle years of prejudice in Hollywood as a Black woman, Queen Latifah teamed up with Procter & Gamble and Tribeca Studios to create the Queen Collective. The program works with female filmmakers to fund, produce, and distribute their films. The Collective aims to accelerate gender and racial equality behind the camera by opening doors to the next generation of multicultural women directors. Queen Latifah also serves as one of the mentors for each participant throughout the process. The program distributed two films each for 2019 and 2020's Tribeca Film Festival.
Queen Latifah has also helped communities of color outside of the entertainment industry, teaming up with the American Lung Association to host its first-ever livestream benefit to raise money for the organization's #Act4Impact benefit in September. The Equalizer actress served as a host for the event, which featured appearances by Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade and a performance by Katharine McPhee.
Funds raised from the event supported the Lung Association's COVID-19 Action Initiative and its efforts to provide free cloth masks, advocate for accessible, affordable COVID and flu vaccines and invest in respiratory research and other programs. The organization aims to highlight the alarming, disproportionate effects of the pandemic on Black and Latino communities, work on solutions to close the gap and prevent future outbreaks by investing in respiratory virus research.
The rapper also regularly contributes to Mary J. Blige's Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now (FFAWN); Girl Up; the Common Ground Foundation, which serves urban youth; School on Wheels; the Trevor Project; 46664, Nelson Mandela’s campaign to help raise Global AIDS/HIV awareness; and the Starlight Children’s Foundation, which works to "improve the life and health of kids and families around the world."
"I would be remiss if I did not reach back and help Black women get where I am today," Latifah told The Root during a roundtable discussion with Procter & Gamble's Marc Pritchard and the two Queen Collective winners, B. Monét and Haley Elizabeth Anderson. "We have a lot of buying power, and we don’t have to do business with companies that don’t support people of color."
Watch the video below for more on Black Hollywood's heavy hitters taking a stand and making change.