Monday, December 17, 2007

Top Ten Black Celebrity Philanthropists of 2007

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Kanye West, Combating the Drop Out Crisis

Kanye has no doubt experienced highs and lows this year: His album Graduation went double platinum in September, and he suffered the devastating loss of his beloved mother, Dr. Donda West, who served as his manager and chair of the Kanye West Foundation.

Previous album titles such as The College Dropout and Late Registration clearly show that Dr. West's thirty-one year career as an educator instilled in her son the importance of education. So much so that this year, Kanye brought awareness to the nation's silent epidemic of the 50% high school drop out rate among African Americans and Latinos. He stated that if someone were to take 50% out of your bank account you'd definitely notice - so why wouldn't we notice when 50% of our kids drop out of school?

In 2003, Kanye and his mother established the Kanye West Foundation, an educational nonprofit that works to decrease school dropout rates and improve literacy. The foundation's signature program is Loop Dreams, a drop out prevention program that involves music production and hip hop - to help keep kids engaged in school and to ultimately graduate. The program was launched at the Accelerated School in South Central Los Angeles in 2006. The youth studied hip hop culture that included the history of rap, famous rappers, how to create a track, the impact of positive vs. negative lyrics and careers in the music industry. Since the foundation's launch, Kanye has contributed over $450,000 dollars to his foundation.

This past August, the foundation held its inaugural benefit concert in his hometown of Chicago. (See related post here). The benefit also officially launched the foundation's partnership with ED in '08, also known as Strong American Schools, creating a PSA that focused on the drop out crisis. In the PSA Kanye says:

"Becoming a music superstar took hard work but it also took a solid education.
Too many kids today are failing to get the education they need to succeed in college, a career or just life itself.
Half of Latino and African American students don't graduate high school.
Even students who graduate aren't being given the skills to get good jobs.
I'm doing something about that and you can too."

In addition to Kanye's numerous music awards, he has been honored for his contributions to society. In February, he was honored at the 100 Black Men of America's annual benefit. In addition, he has performed at various charity concerts this year, among them for the late Princess Diana and Live Earth. Kanye also supported his father's rally and march for World Water Day.

In Dr. West's memoir, Raising Kanye, Life Lessons From The Mother of A Hip Hop Star, she shares that one of her most proudest moments as a mother came when Kanye asked her when he would start giving back:
"In the first throes of success instead of thinking only about all of the things he would do for himself, he was also thinking about what he must do for others. That was a proud moment for me."
She goes on to share that at this time, Kanye was just beginning in the music industry and there still wasn't a whole lot of money coming in at that time:
"But Kanye had a plan. He decided that he'd give ten percent of whatever he netted to someone less fortunate. It made me feel good that Kanye was so intent on giving that he would sacrifice something he could have purchased for himself."