Category Archives: philanthropists

Are Will and Jada pimping the mini-mes?

How stupid unobservant am I? (Rhetorical question. Don’t answer that.) Um, yeah, so I just (like, just this minute while writing this piece) figured out that Jaden and Willow smith’s given names are tributes to their parents. Will/Willow. Jaden/Jada.


Okay. I know. It’s pretty damn obvious. But, whatever. I feel a wee bit smarter now that I figured that out.


(Anyone out there who didn’t get the Smith’s naming strategy until just now, please do leave a comment admitting it–it’ll help soothe my bruised ego.)

Anywaaaay, I said all that to introduce the fact that Jaden and Willow were both nominated for this year’s NAACP Image Awards–Jaden, for his starring role in the remake of The Karate Kid, and Willow for her hit single, Whip My Hair.

For these two cuties to have been raised by “Hollywood” parents with a combined net worth somewhere in the quarter of a billion dollar range, they seem relatively grounded and down-to-earth. (Though I do think Willow has the potential to get full of herself if her mama doesn’t rein in her little ego right quick.) Love you, Willow…but I’m just sayin’.

Jada and Will have gotten quite a bit of Internet flack recently for supposedly “pimping” their kids, and “depriving them of their childhoods,” but I don’t see any evidence of that here at all. These little Smiths are truly talented, and they seem to really love what they’re doing. And, why wouldn’t they? Though they do have to work hard and put in long hours to achieve the success they’ve enjoyed so far, they also have that huge and powerful SMITH MACHINE behind them, which has to make the whole experience that much sweeter.

Though they barely have 20 years on earth between them, both Smith kids seem to “get it” that they are privileged to have the parents they do, and they understand that most of the world doesn’t have they advantages they were born with. Their parents have done an excellent job of instilling this in them from a young age–not just by setting an example of what philanthropy and concern for community look like in action, but also by encouraging their children to become actively involved in charitable causes themselves.

Jaden and Willow have lent their names, images and time to Project Zambi, which supports children orphaned by AIDS in Africa,and Buy Life which provides medicine, food and shelter to millions of people affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa and India.

If you’re wondering what the criteria for winning an NAACP Image Award are, read on:

1. Fair, Accurate, and Inclusive Representations Rather than portraying people of color in broad stereotypes, the project deals with the characters or themes in a fair, accurate, and multi-dimensional manner. Inclusive means that a broad spectrum of people of color is represented. This includes economic, geographic, and political diversity, as well as seniors, differently abled, youth, families, etc.
2. Boldness and Originality The project breaks new ground by exploring subject matter relevant to people of color in a way not traditionally explored, and handles the content in a fresh and original manner. Is this project “cutting-edge?”
3. Impact The project impacts society in a significant way. Does this project dramatically increase the cultural dialogue about issues that pertain to people of color? Or, does this project reach an idea that is not regularly exposed with regard to images and issues pertaining to people of color?
4. Overall Quality The overall quality of the project should be considered. A project which is of high quality production value adds impact, significance, and weight to the images and issues portrayed.

If my little daughter wanted to put a poster of either or both of these kids up on her bedroom wall, I would allow it. I think they stand for something positive, and so far their images are definitely uplifting and admirable.

I hope they both win.



Oprah, Kathleen and Heavy D: we got our OWN thang

O, the wonders of photoshop

So, yesterday Oprah was talking to me (like she does several times a week). I was a little preoccupied with something on my laptop, but when I finally looked up at her she looked me right in my eyes (to make sure I was really paying attention, I suppose) and she said,

“Here we are, this is our day. This is our moment.”

She was talking about our new OWN network, of course–you know, the one we launched on January 1st.  She insisted to me that (even though her name is the only one on the logo) it really is OUR network, and darn it, I believe her.

I know she said the same thing to you, I mean, I’m not crazy. I know she wasn’t talking only to me when she said this network is for us, but I must say that so far the programming choices come pretty close to exactly what I would love to see on television. I especially love the show called Master Class.  <click to see the promo if you haven’t seen the show yet–it’s (in Oprah’s voice) really good.

I won’t list the complete schedule, but in addition to Master Class I’m super geeked about these shows: (OWN’s descriptions)

The Miracle Detectives: Do miracles really exist? Or is there a logical explanation to the seemingly inexplicable? Two investigators; one a believer, the other a scientist will travel the globe to uncover answers to mysterious incidents that transcend logic

Mystery Diagnosis: Every year, millions of Americans fall victim to real-life medical mysteries—ailments that go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for years. Their lives are thrown into turmoil—sometimes their sanity is called into question

Searching For: Viewers can expect an intensely personal ride when cameras follow Pam Slaton, a professional investigative genealogist, and her clients through each step as they track down lost loved ones.  Whether Pam’s clients find a joyous reunion, painful rejection or tragic loss, they all walk away with the closure they were desperate to find. (Pam has an 85 percent success rate, follows a strict “no find, no pay” policy, and is one of the most sought-after professional searchers in the country.)

The Gayle King Show: Start your day off right with Oprah’s best friend and O Magazine Editor-at-Large Gayle King, as her hit radio show comes to television every weekday on OWN. Gayle’s live talk show will offer her unique perspective on an array of topics ranging from current events and cultural trends to politics and more, all while bringing viewers closer to their favorite celebrities and notable public figures with her revealing, compelling daily interviews.

I love Gayle. I think she’s really down-to-earth for someone who is the best friend of one of the most powerful women in the world. (Sorry, I digress.)

Anyway, by now you’re wondering, what the heck does Heavy D have to do with any of this? Well, ever since Oprah started talking to me about this OWN thing… Heavy’s “diddly diddly diddly dee” has been stuck in my head. I know I can’t be the only one who mentally plays the song when the OWN network promos come on.

“We Got Our Own Thang” by Heavy D and the Boyz <listen to a snippet.

Although not all the lyrics in the song are going to be to Oprah’s liking (you know how she is about hip hop), this part of the song is perfect for what OWN is all about:

“In this life, I strive for improvement
Be your own guide, follow your own movement
Loving is a legend
Me, I’m legendary at it…

Stay self-managed, self-kept, self-taught
Be your own man, don’t be borrowed, don’t be bought
Started with a pow and I’m going to end it with a bang
We’ve got our own thang
We’ve got our own thang”

How is that not the theme song playing on the OWN promo?
Maybe and Heav could do a remix for you…
Oprah, it is our network, right?



Sofia Vergara’s heart is bigger than her…well, everything else

One big drawback to being as friggin’ drop dead ridiculously gorgeous and sexy as Sofia Vergara–It’s pretty impossible for people to see (or bother looking for) your spiritual assets when your physical ones are so distracting.

If you’ve watched the Emmy-award winning ABC show “Modern Family,” you already know. Sofia’s character Gloria is a scene-stealer whose thick Columbian accent seems almost too thick to be true–along with some other thick things that Sofia was actually born with. (She wanted a breast reduction, but her mom talked her out of it, saying, “God is going to punish you if you cut them.”)

Before she was discovered on a beach in Columbia and fast-tracked to modeling gigs and a Pepsi ad, Sofia was a catholic school girl (no, really) who more than anything wanted to be a dentist. Please. Can you imagine how popular her dental practice would have been? She abandoned her dentistry dreams to take her first television hosting job–but only after consulting with the nuns in her hometown school who told her to go for it.

Beauty has not shielded Vergara from life’s tragedies. In 1998 her brother Rafael was murdered by kidnappers in Bogota, Columbia and two years after his death Sofia was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which she was able to beat with radiation and surgery. About her cancer battle she said,

“When you go through something like this, it’s hard, but you learn a lot from it. Your priorities change. You don’t sweat the small stuff. “

The experience led her to create Peace and Hope for the Children of Colombia, a charitable organization that has served thousands of needy children in her home country.

“Through the charity I sponsor, we’re building a cancer center in my hometown of Barranquilla. I visited the cancer ward of a hospital in Colombia, and parents were just sitting on the floor while their kids were being treated.”

Sofia also launched a clothing line called Vergara by Sofia,  a socially-conscious brand generating over 1,500 jobs in her native country.

This fall Vergara joined Gloria Estefan, Placido Domingo, Enrique Iglesias and other Latin stars to  record the  song and video “La Gota de la Vida” to raise money for bone marrow donation awareness.

That’s right. In addition to everything else she’s abundantly blessed with…her singing voice is pretty too.

Tyler Perry’s extreme makeover…burned home edition

I know he’s now an entertainment mogul who can hang up the granny dress for good if he chooses, but it is still pretty difficult to think of Tyler Perry and not think of the extreme makeover he undergoes to portray grandma Madea–a makeover that led to him becoming very, very rich.

Two days before Christmas Mr. Perry used some of that money he’s earned to help a real-life grandmother rebuild the home she’s lived in for forty years after it burned to the ground. 88-year-old Rosa Lee Ransby and the seven great-grandchildren she is raising by herself escaped injury but were left homeless by the tragedy. The local fire chief asked the Coweta, GA community for donations to assist the family, and within hours Tyler, who lives in nearby Atlanta, came to the rescue in a major way.

Not only is Mr. Perry paying for Ms. Ransby’s home to be reconstructed, he has rented a home nearby for her and her family to live in until their new home is finished, which will be sometime next year. Tyler will fill the home with new furniture as well.

It is a time like this that must make being a several hundred millionaire feel pretty amazing.

Click the link below to view a video of the 88-year-old woman, her great-grandchildren and the local fire chief who said the gesture made his Christmas. “I’ve been doing this a long time – seen a lot of bad things come and go – but this is special.”

Sleepovers to Resume at Neverland Ranch…

When a dozen cars filled with police investigators pulled up at the gates of Michael Jackson’s  Neverland Ranch seven years ago, it’s as if they brought along some kind of Dr. Evil-inspired device that could suck every last bit of magic out of a place. Though Michael remained there throughout his trial, once he was acquitted of all charges he and his children left their Neverland home and never went back.

My daughters and I spent two amazing days at the ranch just four weeks prior to that raid, and I can tell you first hand there isn’t another place on earth quite like it–as it used to be, that is.  We rode the amusement park rides, played in Michael’s incredible game room and enjoyed an awesome concert put on by the organization “Oneness” in honor of artist Romero Britto. We slept in a guest room above the movie theater where Michael had designed glass-fronted rooms with hospital beds where terminally ill children could experience the magic of being at the movies (while they were hooked up to the tubes and machines needed to keep them alive). The movie Seabiscuit was playing the night we were there.

Our two days at Neverland were filled with way too much magic to describe here, but I can confirm reports that there were ice cream carts everywhere,  and yes, an endless supply of candy and popcorn free for the taking. One of the highlights of the visit for me was sitting in an open field with Michael’s orangutan Brandy who developed a little crush on me and wanted to share a can of Coca Cola. (No it wasn’t Pepsi, and I had to pretend to drink from it or risk hurting her feelings.)

Today, TMZ is reporting that Colony Capital, who now owns the property, wants to turn Neverland into a music institute — similar to The Juilliard  School in NYC where teens of diverse backgrounds will live and learn all aspects of music, including writing and performing. Wow. Of all the rumored possibilities we’ve heard for Michael’s once-beloved retreat, I can’t help but believe he might most approve of this one. What better way to honor the greatest entertainer who has ever lived, than to turn his once magic kingdom into a place where young people can go to develop their musical gifts.

The world will certainly benefit if Michael’s “Giving Tree” inspires more of the incredible music he says it inspired in him.

“God gave us talent to give; to help people, and to give back.” -MJ

You can read TMZ’s exclusive story here.

Prince William will be able to say the word “Mummy” again soon

“Being a princess isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” -Diana, Princess of Wales

If you’re like me, that whole Disney-style princess thing is one huge turnoff. I mean really, what self-respecting mother is going to teach her daughter that the ultimate happily-ever-after comes from catching the eye of a handsome prince and getting lucky enough to sit next to his throne for the rest of her life?  Uh, no.  I don’t think so.  I’m way more excited about Tinkerbell and her little fairy BFFs who are adorably flawed (Tink has a bit of an anger management problem), are able to acknowledge the awesomeness of their individual gifts, and proudly use those gifts to make the world better for everyone.

It makes perfect sense to me that Diana Princess of Wales was, and remains, so incredibly adored worldwide.  Diana was never content to simply be Prince Charles’ wife, but instead chose to behave more like a fairy princess, refusing to pretend she was flawless, and flying around the world using her powers to relieve human suffering–while encouraging us all to be more loving.

“Nothing brings me more happiness than trying to help the most vulnerable people in society. It is a goal and an essential part of my life.” -Diana

When she died the world lost a true philanthropist, and her two young sons lost a loving mother and role-model who was teaching them by example how to use their royal positions to serve others.

“I will fight for my children on any level so they can reach their potential as human beings and in their public duties.” -Diana

Just 12 and 15 when they lost her, Diana’s influence on the boys did not fade as they matured.  Both princes are now known for their humble and friendly approach to the public, and both have upheld their mother’s legacy of philanthropy by contributing time and money to HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, wildlife preservation, environmental protection, the inner-city disadvantaged, the homeless, and African poverty relief.  Harry is co-founder of Sentebale, a joint effort with Prince Seeiso of Lesotho to help meet the needs of children orphaned by AIDS .  Diana’s sons have honored their mother by serving those she would if she were here–underscoring their strong belief that the dead continue on in another life and guide those they left behind.

“I’m aware that people I have loved and have died are in the spirit world looking after me.” – Princess Diana

Though she died over 13 years ago, Diana’s legacy as devoted mother of these two grandsons of Windsor (who are second and third in line for the  throne) has recently become the topic of much conversation, as her eldest William just announced his engagement to his longtime girlfriend Kate Middleton.  William proposed to Kate a few weeks ago while in Kenya, offering her the sapphire and diamond engagement ring his father Prince Charles had given his mother.

“She’s not going to be around to share in any of the fun and the excitement…so this is my way of keeping her sort of close to it all.” -Prince William

The wedding will take place in late April, not long after Mothering Sunday (the UK version of  Mother’s day), a day that is extremely painful for William.  Last year he celebrated the holiday by announcing his patronage of the Child Bereavement Charity, an organization co-founded by his mother a few years before she died.  After several private meetings with bereaved families, he spent time with a group of children who lost parents or siblings.  He spoke candidly with the youngsters, referring to Mother’s Day as an occasion of sadness and emptiness, and describing a loss like theirs as “one of the most difficult experiences anyone can endure.”

“Never being able to say the word ‘Mummy’ again in your life sounds like a small thing. However for many, including me, it is now really just a word – hollow and evoking only memories.” -William

Those who cherish the memory of Princess Diana will be watching with excitement and hope as William and Kate begin their lives together as man and wife, and though I’ve never considered myself a “royal watcher,” I must admit I’m eager to see a few years into the future when the couple become parents, something William says they certainly plan to do. That is when Mother’s Day will be transformed from an excruciating occasion into a bittersweet celebration. When the day is spent honoring the mother of  his children and reminiscing about the amazing grandmother they didn’t get to meet, I suspect Mothering Sunday will take on a new and much more joyful spirit for the prince.

God willing, Prince William will be able to say the word “Mummy” again soon, and when he hears it from the mouths of his little ones, he may find it holds a magical quality that, like Tinkerbell’s pixie dust, will lift him high above his pain.

Give Oprah a friggin’ break

Let’s suppose for a moment that we all agree on this premise:

The purpose of life is to

  1. Love and be of service to others
  2. Develop one’s own emotional, intellectual, creative and spiritual potential to its fullest
  3. Positively influence the emotional, intellectual, creative and spiritual growth of others
  4. Leave the world a bit better than it was when you arrived

(You’ve probably noticed the list doesn’t include anything that refers to allegiance to a specific religious figure. That one is between you and God so we’ll leave it closed to outside scrutiny.)

I don’t know where you are on your list, but, um… Well, let’s just say I hope I have at least another 50 years or so left to work on mine, ’cause I’ll likely need every second of that time to accomplish even 1% of what Oprah Winfrey (who was born to a single teen mother and raised in a house with no electricity and no running water) has in her 50+ years. But hey, maybe I can get a little extra credit for having raised a houseful of kids with little assistance from my ex-husband.

When you are at the helm of an empire as gargantuan as Oprah’s, it is a given that you will have sacrificed much in your personal life along the way. After watching her recent interview with Barbara Walters, I have gained a profound respect for Oprah’s dedication to perfecting her craft, and her unbelievable work ethic–but I find myself wishing that she and Stedman had produced some children. With the kind of career ambitions Oprah held from a young age, I can completely understand why she didn’t feel like motherhood was her path, but it just seems impossible to me that she and Stedman wouldn’t have raised some beautiful kids that would have added value to the world. I know, I know, what happens or doesn’t happen in the woman’s womb is none of my business, but as with all public figures, it’s always tempting (and easy when you’re not in their shoes) to speculate on what they should or should not do with whatever they’ve got.

Despite the fact that Oprah is tested on a daily basis with the kind of wealth and power that would turn many of us into self-aggrandizing heathens with little concern for the lives of others, I would venture to say the number of souls she’s purposely helped (so far) in her lifetime far outweighs any she’s purposely hurt, and despite the fact that her “brand” generates billions in corporate profits, the legacy she’ll leave when she’s gone will certainly be one of inspiration, transformation and personal growth. And, according to Oprah, she’ hasn’t even really gotten started yet.

When asked by Barbara if she felt like she’s accomplished the greatness she was born to, Oprah replied,

“I feel that I’m still in process…as great as the past 25 years have been–just astounding, I mean really the word ‘AWEsome’ does apply–I think it was just the beginning.”

I was a guest on Oprah’s show many years ago, which impacted my writing life and my career in countless ways I won’t go into here, but I’m not one of those Oprah worshipers who believe she walks on water (if that were possible, believe me her producers would have already made a show about it). No. Oprah’s no saint (nor has she ever pretended to be). The woman is certainly flawed, as all of us humans are, but it amazes me how many vicious haters she has in the world. I mean, really. Give the woman a friggin’ break already.

Frankly, I’m not sure what kind of person I’d be if I was worth 2.3 billion. (Not that I wouldn’t like to find out.)

If you didn’t get a chance to watch the Barbara Walters’ interview, I have posted it below. (Thank you to CelinishAnime for uploading the 5-part interview to YouTube for our viewing pleasure.)

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