Category: Philanthropy

J. Cole’s Dreamville Foundation Raising Funds to Aid Hurricane Victims in Hometown of Fayetteville, NC

J. Cole (photo via billboard.com)

by Melanie Eversley via thegrio.com

Rapper/singer J. Cole is raising funds through his Dreamville Foundation to help people from his hometown of Fayetteville, N.C., who have been affected by Hurricane Florence.

“The Dreamville Foundation is looking to lend a helping hand to the community, children, and families affected by Hurricane Florence,” the nonprofit which is based in Fayetteville, N.C., said on its webpage. “There will be hot food stations placed throughout the city, temporary housing options for families and stocking of food pantries/shelters (as) well as supporting other local nonprofits who help provide services for the people in Fayetteville.”

According to CBS News at least, 42 people have died as a result of Florence, which barreled through the Carolinas last week.

The goal of the 4-year-old organization is to inspire urban youth, according to the website. Cole is quoted on the homepage as saying, “I want to start the process of showing them there are other options besides what’s on the screen. They don’t have to be a rapper or an athlete, there are people who manage the rappers, who book the shows. There are so many jobs you can do, this is about expanding their minds to those possibilities.”

The hurricane forced the cancellation of J. Cole’s inaugural Dreamville Festival, which was slated to take place in Raleigh and include not only J. Cole but also Big SeanSZANelly and Young Thug. The festival has been rescheduled for April 2019, according to the Dreamville Festival Twitter account.

Cole, born Jermaine Lamarr Cole, was born on a U.S. military base in Germany but raised in Fayetteville. Along with the foundation, he is the founder of Dreamville Records, with his manager, Ibrahim Hamad.

Read more: https://thegrio.com/2018/09/22/j-cole-launches-fundraiser-florence-victims/

NBA Legend Isiah Thomas Seeks to Increase Celebrities’ Support of HBCUs with “Lift Every Voice” Program

Isiah Thomas (photo via freep.com)

by jbhe.com

Isiah Thomas, a former star in the National Basketball Association, is partnering with Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens to encourage athletes, entertainers, and other successful people to support HBCUs. According to a statement released by the university, the new program is “intended to inspire successful athletes, entertainers and other influential partners to re-commit, embrace and support historically Black colleges and universities.”

This program will be called “Lift Ev’ry Voice.” This refers to the song “Life Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” which is commonly referred to as the “Black National Anthem.” James Weldon Johnson wrote the song originally as a poem and had his brother John Rosamond Johnson set it to music. He was a composer and music professor at what was then Florida Baptist Academy. That educational institution is now known as Florida Memorial University.

Thomas played two years of college basketball for Indiana University before entering the NBA draft. He played for 13 years  for the Detroit Pistons. Thomas completed his degree from Indiana University during the Pistons’ offseasons and later earned his master’s degree in education from the University of California Berkeley.

Source: https://www.jbhe.com/2018/09/nba-legend-isiah-thomas-seeks-to-increase-celebrities-support-of-hbcus/

John Bunn, Wrongfully Incarcerated for 17 Years, Says Learning to Read Saved Him – Now He Builds Libraries in Prisons

John Bunn leads a class at Ember Charter School in Brooklyn.
John Bunn leads a class at Ember Charter School in Brooklyn. (photo via cnn.com)

by Alexandra King via cnn.com

The first book John Bunn fell in love with, curled up in his cell at a maximum-security prison in upstate New York, was Sister Souljah‘s novel “The Coldest Winter Ever.”

In the book, a maternal woman advocates for the improvement of her black community in Brooklyn as she watches the people she loves suffer from the consequences of incarceration, violence and a seemingly endless cycle of poverty. “I related to that book on so many levels,” Bunn says.

Bunn knows more than most what it’s like to face injustice. Arrested and imprisoned as an adolescent in New York City, he spent 17 years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit and a further decade on parole, fighting for his exoneration. In that time, he battled, among others, the courts, police investigators, PTSD and the challenges of illiteracy. He was 16 before he could read and write.

Today Bunn is 41 and a free man at last, mentoring at-risk young people and advocating for the power of reading through his own program that brings books to prisons.

In many ways, his own story sounds straight out of a Sister Souljah book. Except that Bunn, who survived years of wrongful incarceration with his humanity intact, is determined to write the next chapter himself.

The arrest

Bunn’s ordeal began on August 14, 1991, when he was sitting in the kitchen of his mother’s apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. It was 90 degrees in the shade and the AC was broken. Outside he could hear hip-hop music playing from passing cars and the thwack of basketballs on pavement as kids made their way to the courts. Bunn’s mother, Maureen, was making pancakes, his two-year-old sister, India, cooing in her high chair.

Bunn, 14 years old and out of school for the summer, was ready for a typical day of playing ball and demonstrating his famous back flips in and around the four-block radius between the apartment on Ralph Street (his mom) and the house on St Marks (his grandma). Those four blocks, snug between the love of the two women who raised him, were his whole world.

John Bunn, 14, at home in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
John Bunn, 14, at home in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

But then, a bang on the door. It was the police. “They wanted to take me down to the police station for questioning,” Bunn recalls now, sitting in that same small apartment festooned with family photos, nearly three decades later. He was taken to Brooklyn’s 77th precinct, put in a room and handcuffed to a pole.

“The interrogation was led by a detective by the name of Louis Scarcella. And he was threatening me, telling me that I was never coming home if I wouldn’t tell him what he wanted to know. He also told me that they already had beat up my co-defendant, that they had slammed his head into a wall and they already had him,” he recalls.

The co-defendant? A 17-year-old Brooklyn boy named Rosean Hargrave. Bunn knew Hargrave “from the block,” although he and the older boy were never more than acquaintances. But, as he soon found out, they were both now suspected of the same crime:

The killing of an off-duty Rikers Island corrections officer named Rolando Neischer. “I kept telling them, “No, I didn’t have any knowledge of it,” Bunn recalls. But Detective Scarcella, who worked in the Brooklyn North homicide unit for years before retiring in 1999, told the young John he did not believe him.

Bunn’s eyes fill with tears as he describes the moment he was placed in a police lineup with “grown men.” As an adult, Bunn, a slight man with a gentle disposition and a shy smile, stands only 5 feet 6 inches. At 14, he estimates he was no taller than 5-foot-2. He was so much smaller than the adults he was lined up with that the detectives had to improvise. They brought in stools so the lineup could be done sitting down. Bunn did what he was told. He sat down and held up a number.

A couple of minutes later, Scarcella came back into the room. “He told me, ‘It was my lucky day,’ that I got picked,” Bunn says, grimacing. “Ever since then, I’ve been fighting to prove my innocence,” he says, wiping his face and adjusting his hat.

On the front of his baseball cap, in bold white letters, are the words, “WRONGFULLY CONVICTED. On the side, “VICTIMS OF DETECTIVE LOUIS SCARCELLA.”

The hat, he adds, “speaks for itself.” Continue reading “John Bunn, Wrongfully Incarcerated for 17 Years, Says Learning to Read Saved Him – Now He Builds Libraries in Prisons”

Beyoncé & Jay Z Announce New Program Offering $1 Million in College Scholarships

Beyoncé and Jay Z (photo via eatmytickets.com)

by Melanie Eversley via thegrio.com

Beyoncé and husband Jay Z may be raking in the dollars with their highly acclaimed On The Run II tour, but they are pouring those dollars back into communities all over the country, too.

The Carters announced a new scholarship program that will award $1 million in scholarships to “exceptional” high school seniors with financial needs, the couple’s representatives announced Saturday. The scholarships of $100,000 each will go to one qualified student in each of the following cities: Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, Arlington, New Orleans, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Clara and Seattle. Each of the cities is a site where the OTRII tour is appearing.

The Boys and Girls Club of America will choose the winners, according to the announcement.

The students must demonstrate “academic excellence” and “financial need” so great that it threatens to prevent them from attending college for the 2018-2019 academic year.

This is not the first time that the power couple has extended outreach toward needy students.

The Shawn Carter Foundation hosts tours to historically Black colleges and universities and offers scholarships to students headed to college. The organization was founded in 2003 by Jay Z and his mother, Gloria Carter.

The BeyGood initiative, headed by Beyoncé, has created a merit program called the Formation Scholars Award. The program helps female students reach educational goals. Another program, the Homecoming Scholars Award, provides resources for students to study at HBCUs, according to the announcement.

The Boys and Girls Clubs of America is based in Atlanta and has been in existence for 150 years. The organization runs more than 4,300 clubs that serve about 4 million young people and provides mentoring and youth development programs during non-school hours. Clubs are located all over – in cities, towns, public housing and Native American lands as well as on military installations.

Source: https://thegrio.com/2018/08/26/beyonce-jay-z-1000000-college-scholarships/

Young Guru Encourages Coding Interest With $1 Million In Scholarships

Young Guru is looking to provide resources for the best of the best in the world of coding. On Wednesday (Aug. 22), the famed audio engineer for Jay Z and renowned beatsmith, announced the give away of one million dollars in scholarship funds for people of color interested in coding.

In partnership with Opportunity Hubs and Rodney Sampson, Guru will also team with the Flatiron Schoolwhich is dedicated to this field and serves as an incubator of knowledge for 10,000 people. The announcement was accompanied by a national Tech To Wealth tour, ending on Oct. 3 in Seattle.

In an interview with Highsnobiety, Guru discussed how music and technology go hand-in-hand and why creatives should take advantage of the tools that are at their disposal.

“The technologies we have, some of them are better than what we’ve imagined on Star Trek,” he said. “Those type of things, as an engineering feat, are amazing. Also, what these technologies do in terms of power, what they give to the user and to the artist in terms of creative power is just incredible.”

Source: https://www.vibe.com/2018/08/young-guru-coding-scholarships/

Lyft Teams Up With Urban League, Voto Latino, TurboVote and Others to Offer Free and Half-Price Rides on Election Day

Noam Galai/Getty Images for TechCrunch

by Doug Criss via cnn.com

Lyft is getting some help to get people in underserved communities to the polls this fall. The ride-sharing company says it’s working with community groups to offer free and reduced-price rides on November 6, the date of the midterm elections.

To increase encourage voter turnout, Lyft will offer free rides to people in underserved communities that day by working with Voto Latino, the Urban League and the National Federation of the Blind.

Lyft is also teaming up with Vote.org, Nonprofit Vote, TurboVote and others to give away 50% off promo codes to riders. Riders can get help finding their polling location through the Lyft app.

The company plans to remind riders about voter registration deadlines, give drivers voter registration handouts and offer in-office voter registration to its employees. Lyft will provide online voter information through partner organizations When We All Vote and National Voter Registration Day and encourage people to participate in early voting.

Lyft says it’s doing this because over “15 million people were registered but didn’t vote in 2016 because of transportation issues.”

Why turnout in some communities is so low

Elections are held on a work day, when time often equals money — especially if you get paid by the hour. And having a car or paying extra for public transportation to get to the polls can just add to that expense.

Being ‘”too busy” or encountering “transportation problems” were the reasons 28% of people making less than $20,000 did not vote in the 2012 presidential election, according to the U.S. Census.

Perhaps the biggest change to the electoral process in the last few years is the proliferation of Voter ID laws, which many states put in place to prevent fraud. Since 2008, 17 states have enacted laws requiring citizens to prove who they are at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. The cost of getting an ID is a hurdle for some people.

Not only do low-income people potentially lose pay when they vote, but some have to wait longer, too. The Presidential Commission on Election Administration found that 10 million people waited in line for more than 30 minutes to vote during previous presidential election cycles.

Source: https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/24/politics/lyft-election-ride-trnd/index.html

Taraji P. Henson Launches the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation to Provide Support Around Mental Health Issues in African-American Community

Taraji P. Henson (photo via lasentinel.net)

via lasentinel.net

Academy Award and Emmy Award-nominated actress Taraji P. Henson launched The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation (BLHF) in honor of her late father in order to help eradicate the stigma around mental health issues in the African-American community and provide support for and bring awareness to mental health issues that plague this community.

“I named the organization after my father because of his complete and unconditional love for me; his unabashed, unashamed ability to tell the truth, even if it hurt; and his strength to push through his own battles with mental health issues,” said Henson. “My dad fought in the Vietnam War for our country, returned broken, and received little to no physical and emotional support. I stand now in his absence, committed to offering support to African Americans who face trauma daily, simply because they are Black.”

To celebrate the foundation’s launch, the star will host a special fundraising event in Beverly Hills, CA on Saturday, September 22. Taraji’s Boutique of Hope will introduce BLHF to the world and will raise funds to support one of the foundation’s pillar goals of advocating for and providing resources to increase mental health support in urban schools. With partnering school districts, BLHF will help to provide more culturally competent mental health therapists, social workers, and counselors to African-American children in need.

“BLHF is breaking the silence by speaking out and encouraging others to share their challenges with mental illness and get the help they need,” said BLHF Executive Director Tracie Jenkins. “African-Americans have regarded such communication as a sign of weakness and our vision is to change that perception.”

BLHF will partner with other nonprofit organizations who offer programs that educate, celebrate, and make visible the positive impact of mental health wellness. Through these partnerships, the foundation will ensure cultural competency in caring for African Americans who struggle with mental illness by providing scholarships to African-American students who seek a career in the mental health field; offer mental health services and programs to young people in urban schools; and combat recidivism within the prison system.

For more information about BLHF, please visit www.borislhensonfoundation.org.

THIS WAY FORWARD: John Legend Teams Up with New Profit to Help Formerly Incarcerated Entrepreneurs Succeed via Unlocked Futures Program

by Dena Crowder

“I care deeply about issues of incarceration and criminal justice reform,” says Tulaine Montgomery, managing partner at New Profit, a philanthropic venture capital fund. It’s a passion she shares with Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter John Legend.  Like Legend, whose mother cycled “in and out of jail for charges related to drug addiction” when he was growing up, Montgomery has seen the impact of prison on families firsthand.

“This idea that there is a group of people we can *other*…that we cannot advocate for – that’s not something I’ve been able to entertain,” she explains. Montgomery believes that when someone who’s been incarcerated faces barriers preventing successful re-entry into society, it doesn’t just damage them alone.  On the contrary, it wreaks havoc on their extended family, community and nation, often for multiple generations. 

In addition, she says that treating entire groups of people as “expendable” and “counting them out” of making productive contributions makes zero economic sense. The USA spends $80 billion a year to keep people behind bars. Once paroled, even non-violent, first-time offenders struggle to find housing, jobs, or chances for further education.  Feeling locked out of opportunity and unable to sustain themselves, many end up right back in prison.  It’s a costly revolving door. Providing a path to success rather than creating a class of “throwaway people” is not only morally redemptive, it’s also economically sound. 

Tulaine Montgomery, New Profit’s Managing Partner (Photo Courtesy of New Profit)

Transforming inequities and imbalances in the criminal justice system is part of the larger mission behind Unlocked Futures, a partnership between New Profit, John Legend’s Free America campaign, and Bank of America. A 16-month accelerator program that supports entrepreneurs who have been previously incarcerated, Unlocked Futures provides funding, leadership training, business skills building, executive coaching, content development and peer support to eight members or cohorts. 

The program identifies innovative entrepreneurs whose businesses solve problems that affect those impacted by the criminal justice system.  They are uniquely qualified to address the “most pressing challenges” and break down barriers, precisely because they’ve been there, Montgomery says.   

It’s her belief that “someone who has served time—one of the most dehumanizing conditions we pay federal dollars to create—and emerged mentally intact and ready to lead a business, that’s a leader I want to know.

Topeka Sam is one of the eight inaugural Unlocked Futures cohorts and a case in point. Her organization, Ladies of Hope Ministries, helps women transition from incarceration back into meaningful participation. She knows the terrain and has insight into how to navigate the road to re-entry because she’s lived it.  

Marcus Bullock, CEO of Flikshop, a mobile app company that delivers postcards to inmates from loved ones, says the idea came to him because it was “connection” with family and his mother in particular that gave him a thread of hope during imprisonment.

Every dollar invested in correctional education returns $19.76 back to society,” according to Dirk Van Velzen, founder of the Prison Scholars Fund. Van Velzen’s organization helps inmates gain degrees and skills that are marketable in the job sector because he knows that if they’re employable, they’re far less likely to commit new crimes. The statistics are staggering: national recidivism stands at 68%. For graduates of the Prison Scholars’ Fund, that rate plummets to 4%. 

When Unlocked Futures kicked off at the end of last year, John Legend joined New Profit and the eight cohorts for a round table discussion. After listening to their stories, Legend remarked “with people like you working tirelessly to change the system and the narrative, I’m optimistic.” Continue reading “THIS WAY FORWARD: John Legend Teams Up with New Profit to Help Formerly Incarcerated Entrepreneurs Succeed via Unlocked Futures Program”

Pharrell Williams Announces Yellow Ball Gala, Talks Protecting Artists & Taking a ‘People’s Stance’ on Federal Arts Funding

Artwork by Daniel Arsham, a member of the American Express Platinum Collective.
Courtesy Photo: Artwork by Daniel Arsham, a member of the American Express Platinum Collective.

by  via billboard.com

Since becoming the creative director for American Express Platinum in December 2016, Pharrell Williams has worked closely with the financial services company to bring awareness to the importance of arts education and advocacy. Nearly two years later, the “Happy” singer is taking his efforts one step further with the inaugural Yellow Ball gala.

The event will take place on Monday, Sept. 10 at the Brooklyn Museum and will benefit the Young Audiences Arts for Learning, the nation’s largest arts-in-education network. The Yellow Ball title was chosen by Pharrell himself, as the color has many meanings — and ties in with the purpose of the event.

“Pharrell views the color and event as helping to shine a light on the need for arts education and its ability to pave the way for a brighter future,” Elizabeth Rutledge, chief marketing officer of American Express, says. Pharrell adds, “That’s what this is about — bringing light to this cause.”

The Yellow Ball will feature musical performances, including a special set from Missy Elliott. Along with music, the event will also include multi-room art experiences from American Express Platinum Collective member Daniel Arsham, and a multi-course dinner experience by American Express Global Dining Collection Chef Dominique Crenn.

Ahead of the announcement, Billboard chatted with Pharrell about his latest initiative, his thoughts on today’s young generation of artists, and why the arts (and the color yellow) are so important for all ages.

When you were named creative director of AmEx Platinum, what were your goals and where does the yellow ball kind of fit into all of that?

My goals were to work with a company that I felt like had the means to make a difference, but just maybe needed a nudging, or maybe needed some direction. But then when I started working with them and got an education on all the things that they’ve done — from the Tribeca Film Festival to the sales program they have for small businesses on Saturdays — I realized that they had been doing this the entire time. When we talked about doing the Yellow Ball and I told them I wanted it to be about arts and education, they didn’t blink. What I wanted to do with them was just going to be just yet another great thing that they do in the world.

Why did you decide on the name the Yellow Ball, and what does the color yellow mean to you?

Not to get all esoteric, but yellow is like the color of the solar plexus. Yellow is the color for creativity, yellow is the color for curiosity. Art is largely diminishing throughout the curriculum throughout this country, and we need to protect the creative mind.

Everything around you right now versus everything you’re using, it’s just not organic, it was someone’s epiphany. That’s creativity, that needs to be protected. If we don’t have that, I don’t know what kind of future we have. We have to protect the artist community at all costs, across all artistic disciplines.

Why do you think it’s so important for people to be exposed to the arts and learn from it at a young age?

On a more paramount level, everyone is a creative. Everyone that makes a move or does anything in life is a co-creator, but the ones who actually create things that we use and things that we need, that needs to be protected. There is a future that will have corporations that will have more say. You see all the things happening with lobbyists now, you just can never doubt that. In the artistic community, it’s the educational portion of it is eroding, what kind of future is that for us? So we need to talk to all the corporations that we can — that care — now.

Did the controversy surrounding the funding cuts for the NEA change the course of action for you in your involvement with AmEx platinum in any way?

A lot of decisions that are being made are having a domino effect on programs like the [NEA]. And while we might not like that, the powers that be are the powers that be, but we are still the people and we can do things to help the people with the resources that we have access to. That’s literally all we’re doing, there’s no political stance, it’s more of a people’s stance.

Has becoming a father had an impact on the way you think about how art can affect lives?

I want all children to have access to that kind of creative growth, access and support. All kids, not just my own. There’s a lot of variables in a situation as to why something falls apart, but there’s only one scenario where it holds together, and that’s when all the variables are there. The environment, the family, the school, the system — there’s so many things. We just want to do what we can to balance the odds so that as many kids as we can afford, or help and assist in whatever ways, get this access and support.

What do you think the younger generation of today’s musical artists are bringing to the table?

I love what they do and how they express themselves. It’s like these amazing pockets of lyrics or melodies that feel good to them. The music just takes on a direction of its own, it’s not so formatted. I love that this generation is just grabbing the instruments and using them in whatever way feels good to them. That’s just like a sign of how the times have changed.

It’s kind of like the fourth time that I’ve seen music and the spirit of it change — like drastically change. It’s been amazing to see it. You see certain things that feel familiar, then you see things that you’ve never seen or thought of in your entire life. As a musician I can feel connected to it.

Source: https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/8469193/pharrell-williams-interview-yellow-ball-gala-art-education

Applications Now Open for 2019 Disney Dreamers Academy to be Held at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida

Disney Dreamers Academy Class of 2016 (photo by Gregg Newton)

100 high school students to be selected for all-expenses-paid mentoring experience of a lifetime

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Applications are being accepted now through Oct. 31, 2018, for the Disney Dreamers Academy with Steve Harvey and Essence magazine. This annual outside-the-classroom mentoring program is scheduled for March 21-24, 2019, at the Walt Disney Resort in Florida.

The program helps 100 select high school students, ages 13-19, from across the United States jump-start their life goals and pursue their dreams. Disney Dreamers Academy turns the entire magical setting of Walt Disney World into a vibrant classroom.

Disney Dreamers learning how to build rides in Imagineering workshop (photo courtesy of Disney)

Students participate in a series of sessions and workshops designed to help them imagine bright futures, make exciting discoveries and learn how to put their goals into action. Disney Dreamers engage in a wide variety of experiences at Walt Disney World while working side by side with celebrities, community and industry leaders and Disney cast members.

For more than a decade, Disney Dreamers Academy has inspired young people from across the country by fueling their dreams and showing them a world of possibilities as they prepare for the future.

Each year, students participate in hands-on, immersive career seminars in a wide range of disciplines found at Walt Disney World. Participants learn how to improve their communication skills, what it means to be a leader and networking strategies, among other skills. They are also inspired by celebrity speakers and other special guests who share their stories and provide insights on how to achieve their life goals.

The second decade of Disney Dreamers Academy is focused on challenging young people to relentlessly pursue their dreams through the “Be 100” campaign. This promotional push is inspired by the powerful impact Disney Dreamers Academy has made on graduates, who have gone on to become doctors, nurses, engineers, pilots, journalists and more. Some have started their own public relations firms, while others have worked with national political leaders.

Applicants must answer essay questions about their personal journeys and dreams for the future. Studentsare selected based on a combination of attributes, including strong character, positive attitude and determination to achieve their dreams. A parent or guardian accompanies each student on the trip.

This four-day, all-expenses-paid experience at Walt Disney World will continue to help change the lives of young people in 2019.

For more information or to apply, visit DisneyDreamersAcademy.com