March 22, 2022
Melinda Head

Celebrity Activists

They can make a lasting, positive change… and more

When you think of celebrity activists, what forms of activism come to mind? Is it someone writing a check or stepping out of their comfort zone to grab a loudspeaker? Is it a deep-rooted cause a celebrity believes in or just a tax write-off?

With a net worth estimated to be $1 billion, Kim Kardashian took on criminal justice reform, resulting in the execution of Julius Jones being halted, and Alice Johnson receiving Presidential clemency.  A documentary has been produced about her efforts

In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Both money (philanthropy) and action (activism) get important work  done, that otherwise would languish. Yes, there may be a snowball effect when a celebrity lends his or her name to a cause, such as increased awareness and brand strength, but who really cares if good-for-humankind is the end result?

Multiple Academy Award winner Jane Fonda has a legacy of social and political protest, which spilled into the films she made (see Hal Ashby’s 1978 anti-Vietnam war movie, “Coming Home”, starring Fonda, John Voigt and Bruce Dern). She continues to strike out against the establishment, even into her 80’s, and has been arrested numerous times while supporting important causes

America is obsessed with money. Forbes Media celebrates entrepreneurial capitalism and purports to be leading systemic change in business, culture and society. It has developed an annual list of the 100 Highest Paid Celebrities, a Highest Paid Athletes list, and a Billionaires list, among other assets. Yet Forbes publishes no list of the 100 Most Generous People or Businesses, nor is there a column in any of the aforementioned looky-looky lists indicating how much money the uber rich donated to good causes. Instead, we are often simply fed anecdotes in a piecemeal manner by social or traditional media, providing a few nanoseconds of attention and then, poof, the feel-good tweet or story (if you can call it that) disappears.

Mr. Federle, CEO of Forbes Media, I have an important message for you:

“You oversee every aspect of your Company. I challenge you to create a new list about entrepreneurial capitalism’s creation of good for humankind, not just wealth. Can you do it?” (Melinda Head)

I’ve done a quick study of the Top 5 Highest Paid Celebrities, the Top 5 Highest Paid Athletes and the Top 5 Billionaires. Counting football (soccer) stars Ronaldo and Messi only once (as they appeared both on the Highest Paid Celebrities and Highest Paid Athletes lists), collectively all of these folks were rolling in $782,458,000,000 - can you even say that? It’s almost a trillion dollars. Let’s take 3% of this amount, a percent that is often tossed around as the amount of income an average American donates to charity annually – woah, that’s $23.4 billion. We know that the uber rich give away much more than 3%, so this is just the tip of the iceberg … but how much and to which causes? Should $23.4 billion worth of goodness (likely much more) be a secret? In my mind, it is a missed opportunity to spread the word and to serve as an example for others to follow.

I agree with the words of Jim Calaway, the son of poor tenant farmers in Texas who made millions in oil and gas, eventually focusing his semi-retirement efforts in building wind farms to generate renewable energy. He is comfortable saying exactly whom he’s given money to and exactly how much. By promoting his contributions, he hopes to encourage other people with the means to do the same:

“Making a lot of money and spending it on yourself is not a lot of fun. What is a lot of fun is to live modestly so that you can give to the common good. That’s where happiness really lies.”

And let’s not forget Warren Buffett’s famous words (he famously “milked” Forbes’ list to support his Giving Pledge):

“If you’re in the luckiest 1% of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99%.”

Elon Musk tops the Forbes Billionaires list, using Twitter incessantly to deliver social, political and philanthropic messages. We like your spunk, Mr. Musk

Many donors now say that issues (not companies) affect their giving decisions. And we know that volunteers give twice as much as those who only write a check – so both giving and doing should be the ultimate goal.

Musician Billie Ellish does not hold her words back: “I’ve been trying to take this week to figure out a way to address this delicately. I have an enormous platform and I try really hard to be respectful and take time to think through what I say and how I say it, but holy fucking shit I’m just gonna start talking. If I hear one more white person say ‘All Lives Matter’ one more fucking time I’m gonna lose my fucking mind. Will you shut the fuck up? No one is saying your life doesn’t matter. No one is saying your life is not hard. No one is saying literally anything at all about you. All you [motherfuckers] do is find a way to make everything about yourself. This is not about you. Stop making everything about you. You are not in need. You are not in danger.”

The word “philanthropy” derives from the Ancient Greek words “philein”, meaning “to love”, and “anthropos”, meaning “humankind”. Let’s all show our love for humankind during these troubling times and beyond. Celebrity or not, let’s all make a heroic effort to do more good.

Academy Award recipient and husband of Penelope Cruz, actor Javier Bardem protests the invasion of Ukraine in front of the Russian embassy in Madrid

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About the Author

A serial entrepreneur, Melinda is a sociologist and statistician who believes there is no currency with greater value than knowledge

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