How LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Rihanna And Other Black Billionaires Give Back
As the exclusive Black billionaires club grows in the U.S., so has their commitment to social responsibility.
June 15, 2022 at 5:13 pm
In recent weeks, two legendary athletes — LeBron James and Tiger Woods — have joined the ultra-exclusive list of Black American billionaires. Depending on how you count, the number of Black billionaires in the country has hit double digits. While the top of the Black income distribution ladder is occupied by only a handful of people, these successful athletes, entertainers and entrepreneurs have been increasingly active in using their wealth in a variety of ways to uplift their communities and promote equity in the country. Here’s how 10 Black billionaires are giving back.
1. LeBron James reps Akron, supports voting and more
King James may have just hit billionaire status this month, but he’s spent years using his money and celebrity to support a variety of causes. Through the LeBron James Foundation, he created and runs the I Promise School, educating hundreds of students in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. He plans to build a neighboring multimillion-dollar medical facility as well, in addition to a complex offering job training and financial literacy.
Outside of Akron, James has heavily invested in political influence. Building upon his vocal statements surrounding the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, James founded the More Than a Vote organization, which has mobilized athletes, entertainers and political figures and supported everything from voter education to sponsoring thousands of poll workers. In recent years, LBJ has been named the Associated Press’ “Athlete of the Year” (alongside tennis star Naomi Osaka) and awarded the NAACP‘s President’s Award for his activism and community work.
2. Jay-Z has gone hard on criminal justice reform and more
When not having adorable daddy-daughter moments courtside with Blue Ivy, Jay-Z has been using his wealth and celebrity to support a variety of causes and political agendas over the last few years. As Blavity previously reported, Jay-Z has not only advocated personally to free artists like Meek Mill and 21 Savage from incarceration, but he has helped build a coalition of powerful figures into his REFORM Alliance to promote major changes to the prison and criminal justice systems.
Jay-Z has been just as active through his Roc Nation entertainment company, which will be hosting its first social justice summit in New York City next month. And this is all on top of the many millions of dollars that he and wife Beyoncé have donated to everything from bailing out Black Lives Matter protestors in Baltimore to setting up a trust fund for the children of Sean Bell.
3. Kanye West gives back to Chicago and supports victims of police and vigilante violence
In recent years, Kanye West has become as well known for his questionable and problematic behavior as for his music and fashion. His farcical 2020 presidential run and recent behavior toward ex-wife Kim Kardashian have been low points in his public image. Nevertheless, Ye has been using his money for several worthy causes.
West regularly supports his hometown of Chicago, such as his contribution of 4,000 gifts during a recent toy drive in the city. And during the summer of 2020, he contributed to the resurgent Black Lives Matter movement in a major way, providing $2 million to benefit Black-owned businesses and the families of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
4. Tiger Woods offers youth opportunities to honor his father's legacy
Tiger Woods, the latest Black athlete to reach billionaire status, has not been known publicly for his activism and has sometimes been chided for conservative-leaning politics. But such criticisms ignore the work that Woods has been doing for decades through his TGR Foundation, which he founded in 1996 with his father Earl. The program provides opportunities for at-risk youth, including offering STEM opportunities, college readiness programs, and mentorship and training opportunities through the Earl Woods Scholars program. By the time the foundation celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, more than 2 million students had taken part in its services.
5. Oprah Winfrey is an OG of Black wealth and Black philanthropy
Oprah Winfrey became the first Black American woman to reach billionaire status in 2003, but she’s been making a major impact for even longer. She founded the Oprah Winfrey Scholars Program at Morehouse College back in 1989 and has donated $25 million to the school through this endeavor. Her most famous philanthropic endeavor has been the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, which she opened in South Africa in 2007.
As a testament to the impact and longevity of the school, one of its initial graduates recently earned a Ph.D. Between 1998 and 2010, the Oprah Angels Network raised more than $80 million on behalf of charities in the U.S. and internationally. These and other endeavors add up to hundreds of millions of dollars that Winfrey has donated to education and other causes around the world.
6. Tyler Perry comes to the rescue
Tyler Perry has built a media empire, supporting hundreds of Black people in front of and behind the camera and amassing a billion-dollar fortune in the process. With this success, Perry has been eager to give back in ways both large and small. In 2009, he made the single largest individual donation ever to the NAACP when he gifted $1 million to the organization. After Rayshard Brooks was killed by police in 2020, Perry paid for his funeral expenses and set up college funds for Brooks’ children.
Perry has contributed to disaster relief efforts in Texas, Puerto Rico and Haiti. And if you’ve gone shopping in the past few years, there’s a chance that Perry picked up the tag — he once paid for the groceries of shoppers at dozens of grocery stores in New Orleans and Atlanta, and on another occasion covered the layaway amounts for 15.00 people at two Atlanta Walmart locations just before Christmas.
7. Robert Smith has been a major supporter of HBCUs
Billionaire investor Robert Smith might not be a household name for most Americans, but if you’ve attended an HBCU recently, you very well may have been impacted by his work. In 2019, Smith made national headlines — and changed the lives of hundreds of students — when he gave the commencement speech at Morehouse and announced that he was paying off student debts for the entire graduating class. In 2021, Smith created the Student Freedom Initiative to support students at HBCUs. The program is currently working with nearly 30 schools and has teamed up with partners like the Steve and Marjorie Harvey Foundation to further conduct outreach to Black students.
8. David Steward is a patron of the arts
Like Smith, David Steward made his money out of the spotlight. The tech entrepreneur is worth several billion dollars thanks to the IT firm he founded, World Wide Technology, which provides services to companies like Citi and Verizon as well as the U.S. federal government. Steward and his wife Thelma, inspired by their Christian faith and the examples set by their parents, created the Steward Family Foundation to conduct charitable work, largely in the areas of arts and education. Most notably, the foundation donated more than $1 million to the University of Missouri-St. Louis to found the David and Thelma Steward Institute for Jazz Studies.
9. Rihanna wants to save the world
Although she is a citizen — and officially recognized as a national hero — of Barbados, Robyn Rihanna Fenty primarily resides in the U.S., where she amassed her $1.7 billion wealth through her music career and her Fenty cosmetics and fashion lines. But Rihanna has not let go of her international roots. Through her Clara Lionel Foundation, Rihanna has contributed millions to disaster relief, education and other causes in the U.S. and a number of countries in Africa and the Caribbean.
Recently, the foundation contributed $15 million to promote climate justice, splitting the money between organizations in the U.S. and a number of Caribbean countries. Rihanna also founded the Diamond Ball in 2014 to bring donations and attention to important world causes. Rihanna’s work has gained her various accolades. In 2017, Harvard University named her its Humanitarian of the Year.
10. Michael Jordan has taken the fight for racial justice to a new level
While cementing his legacy as one of the greatest athletes of all time, Michael Jordan also developed a reputation for shying away from politics and for being, well, less than generous. This reputation was in some ways unfair, as Jordan has long given large sums of money to various causes, including donating his entire 2001-2002 salary to 9/11 charities; becoming a Founding Donor for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and giving millions to tackle police shootings.
But the global icon took things to another level after George Floyd’s 2020 murder. Jordan and the Jordan Brand pledged a massive $100 million to be distributed over 10 years to directly impact the fight against systematic racism. Among the organizations and causes that have already benefited from this pledge are the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; the Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted Peoples and Families Movement; and Black Voters Matter. Morehouse College’s journalism and sports-studies programs also received a $1 million donation, as did a group of 18 grassroots nonprofits fighting racism in various cities around the country. And this is all on top of the millions that Jordan has separately donated to support food banks and build clinics in the Carolinas and Chicago, the places where he built his legendary basketball career.
As more Black entrepreneurs, athletes and entertainers join the Black billionaires’ club, we can hope that they will use their wealth and power in the socially-responsible ways that these ten individuals have employed their assets and their influence.