MLK Would Be Proud: Celebrities Who Won’t Stay Silent On Injustices
Celebrities are more than just red carpets adornments and glitz and glamour. While we will admit that there are many A-listers who seem more concerned with themselves than they do with serving their communities, we’d be remiss to discount the countless celebrities who donate their time, money, energy and likeness to a variety of causes. From domestic violence awareness and prevention to campaigning against racial and social inequality, some celebs are true inspirations. In their honor, MadameNoire takes a look at the celebrities who speak out and refuse to stay silent when it comes to the issues they are most passionate about.
“Grey’s Anatomy” hottie Jesse Williams has proven time and time again that he is more than just a pretty face. An outspoken advocate for social justice and racial equality, Williams has been on the front lines of expressing the outrage and dismay with the verdicts in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. In one of many interviews Williams has given on these topics, he passionately told CNN: “I think we have to talk about the narrative and make sure we’re starting at the beginning. You will find that people doing the oppressing often want to start the narrative at a convenient point. This started with a kid getting shot and killed and left in the street for four hours. I’ve never seen a white body left in the heat for four hours in the sweltering heat.” The rise of a modern-day Harry Belafonte. We love it.
Alongside fellow hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, Jay-Z parlayed his frustration with the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases into tangible actions to effect change. The duo met with New York governor Andrew Cuomo to discuss the necessity of reform within the criminal justice system to ensure that young black men receive the same treatment and protections as their white counterparts. While we have months and possibly years to wait to see the impact their actions have, we give these two all the credit in the world for backing their words with pro-active and, hopefully, productive actions.
When she’s not getting it handled on “Scandal,” Kerry Washington maintains a presence as one of Hollywood’s most socially engaged forces of good. In addition to becoming an advocate against domestic violence and showing her political awareness when she fervently supported Barack Obama during his election bid, she was also named to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Never one to hide her opinions, Washington confidently told Glamour magazine: “Just because I’m an actress doesn’t mean I have to give up my political voice. It’s a reality that in this country, we still don’t pay women what we pay men, and we don’t pay people of color what we pay white people. It’s important for people to think about that.” A true inspiration.
Matt Damon has never been one to let his celebrity status overtake his passion for important social issues or his interest in politics. So it was a no-brainer to include him on our list of celebs who won’t stay silent, particularly for his outspokenness in support of teachers and teachers unions, in addition to his fearlessness in calling out a number of politicians. One of our favorite jabs, this one about then-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin: “I need to know if she really thinks that dinosaurs were here 4,000 years ago. I want to know that, I really do. Because she’s gonna have the nuclear codes.”
As mentioned earlier, Russell Simmons and Jay-Z took a trip to see Governor Cuomo recently to discuss sweeping reforms within the criminal justice system. But aside from the stand Simmons has taken regarding Michael Brown and Eric Garner, he has also lent his name and star power to a number of philanthropic endeavors. From the creation of his Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation to expose disadvantaged children to the arts to co-founding the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, Simmons has devoted his life to improving his community and the lives of those around him.
Turning her personal tragedy into a crusade for others, Gabrielle Union has been an inspiration to us all for years. While we salute her advocacy efforts, what truly spoke volumes was her willingness to share her own story of rape and enable thousands of young women to see that they were not alone in struggles.
One of the most outspoken celebrities we’re paying tribute to, Spike Lee has taken vocal stances on every issue from gun control to the treatment of black Americans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case. Though many times his comments have caused a stir and attracted the ire of pundits and fellow celebrities, Lee has never been one to back down from what he believes in and isn’t afraid to use his Hollywood status to amplify his message.
Perhaps an unlikely choice, but one that we confidently stand behind. Though Chris Rock may be a lightning rod of controversy when it comes to expressing his beliefs, he has used his medium — comedy — to an effective degree in unmasking some of society’s ills, conflicts and hypocrisies. One of our favorite lines: “Gun control? We need bullet control! I think every bullet should cost 5,000 dollars. Because if a bullet cost 5,000 dollars, we wouldn’t have any innocent bystanders.” Preach on, preach on!
Angelina Jolie is one of the most successful and well-known actresses of our time. But more impressive than her Hollywood resume is her relentless philanthropic work both in the United States and abroad. A noted humanitarian, Jolie’s passion for improving the lives of others has taken her to the far reaches of the world, with time spent in countries such as Sierra Leon, Tanzania, Cambodia and others. She has graciously donated her time, money and influence to campaigning for change and improvement in the lives of millions of people.
Brains and beauty are only two aspects that make Soledad O’Brien a true force to be reckoned with. And when she takes up a cause, you better strap in for quite a ride. O’Brien, the powerhouse behind such noted documentary series as Black in America and Latino in America, has never shied away from bringing issues of racism into American living rooms to deal with them head on. If only we had more journalists willing to do the same.
The driving force between such charities as Keep A Child Alive and Frum The Ground Up, Alicia Keys has never forgotten to give back to those around her (and even those thousands of miles away). Though maybe she hasn’t been as vocal as some of the other celebrities to make our list, she is a true example that sometimes actions do speak louder than words.
Bono may be one of the most noted celebrity philanthropists to ever walk the earth. It’s nearly impossible to list all of the causes and missions he has embarked on. Instead some of his accolades probably tell a better story: The Pablo Neruda International Presidential Medal of Honour from the Government of Chile; The Portuguese Order of Liberty; Time’s “100 Most Influential People”; NAACP Image Award’s Chairman’s Award and so many more.
For someone as smooth and soft-spoken as Yasiin, he sure knows how to make his voice be heard. He has taken hard stances on a variety of issues, but one of our favorites: His passionate debate regarding nuclear arms against Christopher Hutchens on “Real Time with Bill Maher.”
Eva Longoria is as noted for her beauty as she is for her commitment to helping others, particularly in the Latino community. But more than just being a philanthropist, Longoria took it a step further: She went back to school. She told Latina magazine, “Because of my involvement with [National Council of La Raza] and my charity work, I really wanted a better, more authentic understanding of what my community has gone through so I can help create change.”
Life certainly imitated art when it came to the stunning Mariska Hargitay. The “Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit” star is the founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization committed to helping those impacted by sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse. Much like her character Olivia Benson, Hargitay has taken a stance in helping survivors of these unspeakable crimes. What an inspiration.