Prince: The Unapologetically Black Philanthropist, Humanitarian and Social Activist: A Side of the Superstar That Has Never Been Seen Before
Van Jones, former advisor to President Obama, attorney, activist, and close personal friend of Prince made a few appearances on both CNN and HLN the night of April 21st (the day of Prince’s tragic passing).
Although visibly distraught, Van still managed to expose many secret projects Prince had been currently working on before he died. Due to his dedication to Christianity, Prince was not allowed to speak publicly about his charitable contributions. Van revealed that he acted as a ‘go between’ or a public face for Prince’s organizations, meaning many of the organizations that were in Van’s name were actually secretly owned and funded by the legendary singer.
1. Prince was secretly working on his organization, called Yes We Code, where he paid for over 100, 000 black youth to learn coding!
Van Jones, recalled conversations that he had with the late singer, in which Prince expressed his interest in getting more black youth into the technological industry. Prince noticed that technology was a booming industry and a necessary to the growing technological age. He wanted to do whatever he could, to encourage and give the opportunity to as many blacks youths as possible, to learn and train in this industry.
Jones stated, “I think he made the observation,” Jones told TIME, “that when African-American young people wear hoodies people think they’re thugs, but when white kids wear hoodies you assume that they’re going to be dot-com billionaires,” referring to Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg’s, favoured choice of attire. “We just started thinking: ‘Well, how do we turn that around?’”
Prince’s response to this issue, was to form an organization to address the racial and gender gap in the technology sector. In 2015 he conceived and launched, Yes We Code, an organization dedicated to teaching black girls and boys coding to prepare them for a career in computer sciences. He payed for multiple hackathons and even performed at some of them. In an effort to keep his true involvement in the program private, Van Jones agreed to be the public face of the organization, while Prince remained behind the scenes.
Computer sciences is one of the top careers in North America. Unfortunately the majority of computer science students are white males. The highly disproportionate ratio of white males, to black males and black females is a reminder that minority communities are missing out on essential and meaningful career opportunities in this field.
Yes We Code is helping many organizations across America that are trying to bridge the technological industry’s, racial and gender gap. It is a bridging program that connects other black and minority targeted coding programs together, and provides them with whatever resources that they are in need of. They have also partnered up with technology hard-hitters, such as Facebook and Google.
In an interview, Van Jones said, “Yes We Code aspires to become the United Negro College Fund equivalent for coding education.” He continued, “Yes We Code exists to find and fund the next Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg in communities you would never expect to find them. “The thing I think people don’t understand is that a new talent pipeline is under construction that is going to be disruptive for not just low-income communities but for the tech sector itself,” Jones said. When you have a completely different kind of person pouring into this industry. It’s going to change everything.”
2. Van stated on a 2 hour special dedicated to Prince, April 21st on Dr, Drew’s HLN show, that Prince was working behind the scenes with Black Lives Matter and wanted to help them to begin establishing “financial independence in the black community.”
Prince even went as far as to anonymously donate money to the family of Trayvon Martin. According to well renown black social activist, Reverend Al Sharpton, right after hearing about the shooting of 17 year old Trayvon, Prince called him.
“I will never forget when he called me and said he had some funds he wanted to give to Trayvon Martin’s family,” Sharpton recalled. “Just out of the blue. Just out of the clear blue.” Sharpton continued, “He didn’t want anybody to know. He didn’t even want Trayvon Martin’s family to know where the funds came from.” Sharpton concluded, “He would make social statements the way he made musical statements — at his own pace. He marched to the beat of his own drummer.”
Prince practiced his philanthropy discretely due to his devout Christian Faith. Prince being a Jehovah’s Witness took his religion very seriously, and also had many Afro-Centric beliefs, which became evident upon interaction with him.
3. Prince was secretly working on an educational cartoon for black children on the lost Egyptian city of Heracleion.
On April 21st, Van also appeared on Don Lemon’s CNN show to discuss his late friend’s involvement with education. According to Van, Prince was working on an educational cartoon about the lost City of Heracleion. Prince wanted black children to develop a consciousness and an awareness of themselves, their cultural heritage and their ancestor’s contributions to the world. Unfortunately, he passed before he could release this project. It is unknown if he had completed this project prior to his passing, however Van Jones proclaimed that he would adopt and complete all of Prince’s projects, after his sudden passing.
4. Prince became independent, bought all the rights to himself and gained complete ownership with his musical catalog from Warner Brothers.
Prince often told black artists not to sign with any record labels, and to remain independent. He oftentimes likened recording contracts to Indentured slavery. He was outspoken about the importance of artists controlling as much of the revenue they produce from their work, as they possibly can. He publicly campaigned for artists to be paid directly from streaming services that use their music, so that record companies could not claim their share in the profits.
The day after the launch of Apple Music, Prince ordered that the majority of his catalog be pulled off of streaming sites, including, Spotify, Deezer and even YouTube. He opted instead, to sign a contract with Jay-Z’s music streaming service, Tidal. He even gave Tidal exclusivity on the release and distribution of his album HitNRun.
In a public statement, Prince proclaimed, “Once we have our own resources, we can provide what we need for ourselves,” he went on to say, “Jay Z spent $100 million of his own money to build his own service. We have to show support for artists who are trying to own things for themselves.”
He oftentimes spoke highly of the freedom he had as an artist, through Tidal, to work with other artists and still have a great deal of control over his revenue.
5. Prince was trying desperately to help to rebuild and establish a successful Black Wallstreet
Prince was using concerts as a cover story to get into the black community to meet with community leaders to begin rebuilding the black community and helping us to become financially independent (he wanted to rebuild Black Wallstreet).
The mere fact that black people can’t out rightly meet with one another to discuss issues and create opportunities for change without having to meet secretly and using cover stories, is sad. It just goes to show that we live in a society which has and continues to undermine our efforts to create self sufficiency and success within the black community.
Van stated this about Prince, “He believed in the Black Lives Matter kids so much – and he had a dream for them. He said, ‘I hope that they become an economic force. I hope that they use their genius to start businesses.'”
Taking all of this information into account, I can’t help but recall the events that occurred in the summer of 1912 in Tulsa Oklahoma (Black Wallstreet). Black Wallstreet was a socially, politically and economically independent black community. In 1912, it was destroyed by an air strike- the first one that ever occurred on U.S soil and the least spoken about. Prince and many other black social activists died suddenly while trying to rebuild or improve the condition of the black community. Considering the fate that Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr, Medgar Evans, and Fred Hampton all had, I totally understand why Prince was so careful and secretive about his plans to rebuild Black Wallstreet.
In the words of the late Afeni Shakur, “You can kill a revolutionary, but you can’t kill a revolution.”