By Georgette Pierre
2020 was quite a year but we’ve pushed through to 2021. In 2020, many of us had to sit with some uncomfortable truths while spending a lot more time with family, friends, and the internet. The internet has been at the forefront of a lot of my entertainment and distraction to say the least. I’m sure I’m not the only one.
The pandemic did a number on us, unearthing an unfortunate domino effect including permanent shutdowns of small businesses, many families experiencing limited access to basic needs and resources, a death toll that continues to rise, and loss of loved ones. We also saw where some of our favorite celebrities stood on social justice issues and how they showed up and showed out for those less fortunate. It was a bumpy and tone-deaf ride for some, but others made it count.
Here’s a short list of celebrities who leaned into relief efforts and social justice issues, with a major splash of activism.
We already know that “Rihanna’s reign just won’t let up.” Ever since establishing the Clara Lionel Foundation (CLF) in 2012, named after her late grandmother who died from cancer, Rihanna has used her power, access, and status to provide and support many causes globally. This year, CLF reportedly donated around $5 million to coronavirus efforts across the United States, the Caribbean, and Africa. These efforts supported organizations on the ground, local food banks, purchasing supplies for hospitals, and more.
Rihanna also doubled her efforts with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, partnering with him on two occasions. The first one focused on domestic violence victims in Los Angeles, with CLF contributing over $2 million to a grant that Jack Dorsey matched, bringing their combined efforts to over $4 million. In addition to assisting Los Angeles, Jay Z, Rihanna, and Jack partnered to give a collective $6 million to the most vulnerable cities at the time including New York and New Orleans.
Beyonce’s reign is one for the books. It’s not a secret that black people and people of color were disproportionately dying from Covid-19 in addition to having a lack of access to healthcare and other resources. For the past several years, Beyonce has been very intentional about the partnerships she walked into. If you recall, she walked away from her Topshop x Ivy Park deal and trucked it on to Adidas. Her recent partnership with Peloton, the exercise equipment and media company, not only includes workouts with her music, but it also sees Peloton gifting students at 10 HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) with two-year memberships. Beyonce used her platform and voice to elevate the black community.
Like wife, like husband. Jay Z and Beyonce typically move in silence when it comes to their philanthropic efforts. One of Jay Z’s deeds that couldn’t go unnoticed was Roc Nation providing their private jet to fly Ahmaud Arbery’s legal team to Georgia for a court hearing. Arbery was a young black man killed by a white father/son duo at the end of February 2020 while jogging in his neighborhood. It was caught on tape and although it took months for this family to get justice, enough noise was made to get these men charged including the person recording the incident.
Jay Z and Meek Mill’s REFORM Alliance helped pass the probation bill in California that will shorten the probation sentences for misdemeanors and felonies among other things. This seemed very personal to Meek because Jay Z was instrumental in helping Meek beat his 12 year legal case. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey came into the mix and reportedly donated $10 million to REFORM Alliance. Jay Z and Meek sent approximately 10 million masks and other personal protective equipment to U.S. jails and prisons.
Known for his role in HBO’s Insecure, Kendrick Sampson has no problem intersecting his acting with his activism work. This summer while protesting the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, he was among the protestors hit by cops with batons and rubber bullets. Sampson co-founded non-partisan grassroots organization BLD PWR with the mission to assist creatives and other actors to use their voice for social change.
Last summer right around the time protests were taking place for George Floyd’s death, Trey Songz released a song called “2020 Riots: How Many Times.” Songz also sponsored a Black Lives Matter event series in his hometown of Petersburg, Virginia, as well as in the neighboring city of Richmond.
Although they probably wouldn’t consider themselves celebrities, Tamika Mallory and Brittany Packnett Cunningham have been on the frontlines alongside other brave individuals fighting against various injustices that continue to plague the Black community. Mallory’s viral speech in Minneapolis really set the tone after protests erupted from the senseless killing of George Floyd by a cop. Cunningham served as one of the leaders of the Ferguson protest when Michael Brown was shot dead in the street by a cop. Their work alongside other passionate activists like DeRay McKesson, Johnetta Elzie, and Samuel Sinyangwe continues.
Although this list barely scratches the surface of brave individuals and organizations tackling social justice issues, we’re grateful for those shaking things up. It’s time to see justice served and equality applied for real this time. 2021, show us something good.
Georgette Pierre is an Emmy-Award winning producer, multimedia personality, and voice over artist. She’s worked in media for over 10 years, having started in radio then moving into TV production with the likes of VH1, MTV, Nickelodeon, and more. She’s also written for Entertainment Weekly, MTV News, VH1.com, Blavity, and Killer Boombox. She's currently creating and producing digital content through her company imprint, M.Y.S. Productions.