Rihanna and LeBron James’ Ongoing Contributions to Black History Month and Beyond

She’s one of the bestselling performers in music, headlining this year’s Super Bowl halftime show. He’s one of the world’s most successful and influential athletes who just broke an all-time record.

February is a busy month for Rihanna and LeBron James, who are not only history-making superstars in their respective fields, but also dedicated philanthropists with their own innovative non-profits.

Rihanna

Rihanna's Clara Lionel Foundation has spent more than $54 million on justice initiatives in the Caribbean and United States.

With 14 number-one singles, best original song Oscar nominee Rihanna continues to be one of the recording industry’s most popular entertainers, according to Billboard. In 2015, she became the first artist to reach 100 million digital sales and received the 2017 Harvard Humanitarian of the Year award. Rihanna officially reached billionaire status in 2021, becoming the wealthiest woman in music largely due to her Fenty Beauty cosmetics line.

Born and raised in Barbados, Rihanna founded the Clara Lionel Foundation in honor of her grandparents in 2012. CLF champions environmental and social justice projects in the United States and Caribbean, which the non-profit notes is among the most disaster-prone areas in the world and has been especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Its climate resilience programs proactively develop emergency preparedness solutions, like upgrading infrastructure and keeping health care accessible during crises.

“CLF’s goal is for the Caribbean to become the world’s first climate-resilient zone by helping communities prepare for and withstand natural disasters,” says Christine Platt, Director of Communications at CLF.

The non-profit says its models can be scaled and replicated in other regions of the world, and its latest initiative, With/Stand, reflects a commitment to global teamwork. CLF has funded programs in more than 35 countries and all 50 states, spanning climate justice, natural disaster response, covid pandemic relief, education, and racial equity.

“CLF prides itself on focusing its support of climate justice initiatives led by Black, Indigenous, people of color, with 100% of our current Caribbean partners being BIPOC-led. And that’s because we understand that environmental justice is intricately interconnected with racial injustice,” Platt says.

During Black History Month, the non-profit is running a campaign to honor climate justice trailblazers like Colonel Charles Young, the first Black Superintendent of the National Park Service. But their work continues year-round.

“At CLF, we are always celebrating, highlighting, supporting, and amplifying the work of Black environmentalists,” Platt adds, “both domestically and in the Caribbean.”

LeBron James

LeBron James' I PROMISE School is now in its fifth full year.

LeBron James is one of the biggest names in professional sports. The current Los Angeles Laker is the highest-scoring basketball player of all time with four NBA championship rings with three different teams, four NBA MVP awards, and two Olympic gold medals, among many other accomplishments. Named several times to Time Magazine’s list of the 100 Most Influential People, James also reportedly became the first active NBA player to become a billionaire with his investments in athletics, dining, real estate, and media. (Disclosure: James executive produced the 2021 CNN Film “Dreamland: The Burning of Black Wall Street.”)

James was named the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2004, the same year he founded The LeBron James Family Foundation. Since then, the education-focused non-profit has served more than 1,600 public school students and their families in James’ hometown of Akron, Ohio.

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The LJFF launched its marquee I PROMISE program in 2011 identifying and supporting third graders at risk of falling behind in school. In 2018, the LJFF opened its I PROMISE School for grades three through eight with a longer school day, STEM-focused curriculum, and family-focused culture. Its “new model for urban, public education” extends beyond the classroom with its on-site Family Resource Center offering services and programming such as medical care, legal aid, financial literacy classes, and a food pantry.

Students in the program can earn four-year scholarships to the University of Akron, home to LJFF’s I PROMISE Institute, or Kent State University. Two-year scholarships are also available to Stark State College, an opportunity also open to program parents and guardians. Today, the LJFF says nearly a hundred students from the original class are attending college and the foundation has helped 25 I PROMISE parents earn their GEDs.

Beyond academics, the LJFF is expanding into housing. In 2020, the foundation opened the I PROMISE Village by Graduate Hotels within walking distance of the school, offering rent-free transitional lodging and resources for 15 students and their families in immediate need of safe, stable shelter. A few blocks from campus, when longer-term I PROMISE Housing opens by early next year, 50 new, affordable multi-bedroom apartments will be available to program families.

Community is also central to LJFF’s mission. I PROMISE families meet every month to share a meal and conversation. Soon they’ll have a new venue: House Three Thirty, a multi-use community space and resource center, scheduled to open to the public next month.

One annual highlight happens every August when James hosts a field trip and “family reunion” at Cedar Point to kick off the new school year.

An LJFF spokesperson says, “The Foundation’s hands-on work and resources are ‘always on,’ activating 365 days a year and continuously finding unique ways to connect with our students and families year-round.”

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