by Gloria Dulan-Wilson
Didn't I just do an article on Prince recently? Yes, I did. And I must admit, I didn't expect to have the honor of having to do another one quite so soon. But never underestimate the brother's capacity to surprise and amaze.
Prince wound up his "Welcome 2 America Tour" at Madison Square Garden, not only with a bang, but with a whammy, as he used his time and fame to recognize local community based non profit organizations for their valuable work in their respective neighborhoods. The recipients of his beneficence were: The Uptown Dance Academy, The American Ballet Theatre, and the Harlem Children’s Zone.
Ms. Robin Williams, Executive Artistic Director of the Uptown Dance Academy, and Ms. Rachel Moore, of the American Ballet Theatre, each received a credit line in the amount of $250,000. It should also be noted that he featured Misty Copeland - one of the premiere soloist ballerinas with the American Ballet Theatre - at one of his Welcome 2 America concerts.
Harlem Childrens’ Zone Founder, President and CEO, Geoffrey Canada, received a line of credit in the amount of One Million Dollars - an unprecedented donation for the organization, or for any community-based educational facility, from one donor thus far. But it goes without saying that Mr. Canada is more than deserving of the funds, for his tireless efforts in providing quality education to more than 11,000 youth in the inner city of Harlem and the surrounding areas.
But more to the heart of the matter - and I do mean “heart” - is the level of generosity on the part of the donor, Prince, who selected these organizations himself, after doing his own research. It is stated that he initially learned of Canada’s great works through his friend, Tavis Smiley, and decided to do some further investigation. Further affirmation of his continued alliance and support with the concerns and needs of the community, is that he followed through and contacted Canada personally.
Instead of issuing checks, however, Prince opened up lines of credit for each organization so they can withdraw funds as needed for upcoming projects; and so he could remain tied in and involved with their future progress.
Syndicated columnist, Harriette Cole, formerly of Essence and Ebony Magazines, did the honors as mistress of ceremonies, at the Madison Square Garden Press Conference, presenting the gigantic check replicas to each of the recipients.
In speaking on behalf of the mega-super star, Ms. Cole stated, “Prince is absolutely passionate about young people; passionate about the arts; he’s passionate about ensuring that our children have an education and an opportunity to express themselves.”
Geoffrey Canada's response, upon acceptance of the generous donation: “I got a call from Prince, and he said, 'I want to be helpful.' And it was just him and I - there was no one else there; and he said that he felt that all of us must be invested in America’s children. I was happy just to have the meeting; I didn’t know that Prince was going to come forward with a million dollars in support for my organization.”
Mr. Canada went on to say that having been involved in providing quality educational programs for youth for 28 years, “This is the first time in my life that someone from the music industry, one of the great artists - you know I love Prince; and I’ve loved Prince for a long time - that someone has called and said ‘let me help you; and let me financially figure out how I can support you. So let me say thank you to Prince. I am touched - I am blown away - by his generosity. This is unprecedented in my lifetime for an artist to come forward and say, ‘Let me invest in Americas children.’”
Ms. Cole announced that an impromptu charitable auction, being launched by Prince, would auction off one of his famous gold guitars. The guitar was played on day one of the tour at the Izod Center in Rutherford, NJ. The auction, which took place following the Monday evening concert, was held at an after party in a nearby venue.
Cole stated that Spike Lee intended to bid on the guitar, whose minimum bid was set at $1 million. The proceeds of the funds are to go to assist in Prince’s mission to continue paying it forward by helping other locally based organizations in cities throughout the United States.
She further stated, “He’s not just dropping the money and moving on; he’s intends to continually remain involved. He will also be working with the organizations to ensure that they continue to get the support they deserve.”
While he does receive recommendations about choices from people in different communities, Prince is largely doing his own research, homework, and selection of the recipients. He is integrally involved from beginning to end. In other words, this is hands on and personal for him.
Many of the media were clearly disappointed that he did not personally do the presentations himself, however, the most important part - that of having actually made the donations available - was Prince's main concern.
(AN ASIDE FROM ME: It was rather disgusting to witness some of the mainstream media's rude and ignorant behavior when it turned out that Ms. Cole was awarding the checks instead of Prince himself. The fact that they totally overlooked the value of the event in terms of the overall benefit to the youth is clearly why there are so many more negative than positive articles dominating the press today. Prince was not, as one reporter put it, a "no show", because he'd already shown up in a manner they apparently could not comprehend. But if you don't have a heart, or if you're operating from a negative value system, it's difficult to recognize one when you see one. OKAY, GETTING BACK TO MORE POSITIVE ISSUES):
In addition to the line of credit, Prince had selected from among students at the Harlem Children’s Zone, those who were interested in being involved in the music industry, on one level or another. He provided them an opportunity to work side by side with his staff, musicians and artists, to get some hands on experience in learning the ropes - talk about an OJT (on the job training) opportunity! Again reflective of his genuine concern and involvement in issues in the community. The Brother does not operate from remote control.
The first six Welcome 2 America Concerts are only the beginning, according to Ms. Cole. “He will be traveling all over the United States looking for organizations that support our young people, and is creating the Prince New Power Generation Lines of Credit.”
It should be noted, however, that this is not the first time Prince has made it a mission to be of service. This writer remembers when, in the 1990’s, Fisk University, an historically Black College, once attended by W.E.B. du Bois, was on the brink of bankruptcy, with all the electricity and lights turned off on campus for non-payment; and students facing being sent home because lack of funding. It was Prince who gave the college $90,000+ to help them in the climb back to solvency. He did it without fanfare, without a press conference; without paparazzi. The fact that he’s continuing in his bent to share the wealth speaks volumes for the heart of this brother.
In speaking with Canada after the presentation, we harkened back to the humble beginnings of the Harlem Children’s Zone, when it was originally located on West 144th Street, between Frederick Douglass (8th Ave) and Adam Clayton Powell (7th Ave.) Avenues in Harlem. Even then he was setting records and raising the bar on education for inner city school children.
Per Canada, “We’ve been blessed. We’ve focused on saving kids, and have focused since I started here in 1983, and it’s still my main focus today. I built a terrific team of men and women who are committed to this work. I think it’s been focused and disciplined around this effort, and we’ve been really focused on outcomes. And this is about not saying we’re doing a good job, but showing the work, and how many kids are doing better. As we went from 500 kids to 1,000 to 5,000, it shocked people when we had proved that our methods worked.”
With some 11,000 kids currently in their program, Canada has 20 different program sites throughout Harlem and Manhattan Valley. Now, with Prince’s recognition, and his first million, as well as the prospect of Prince doing more for the Harlem Children’s Zone in the future, Canada stated: “You know this is the first time I had an artist come and say ’let me help.’ I did not call him, did not know how to reach him in any case. He called, and it’s sort of overwhelming that this is something that he cares so passionately about that he wanted to do this. I had no idea what he wanted to do. He said, ’I’m going to see if I can be helpful.’ And I thought, that’s great. I thought that maybe he’d come and take some pictures with us at the Zone. I had no idea he was going to put so much money where his heart is in terms of this work. The reaction on the part of the kids, when they think a million dollars, it’s just beginning to sink in. It’s great for them, though, because every kid who looks up to people in the music industry, the movie industry, always wants to know “do they care about me?” That’s not money for me, that’s money for them. And they understand that here’s this wonderful artist has decided this is something he wants to do for them. It’s just great.”
Canada says Prince has never been to Harlem Children’s Zone. “We’ve talked a number of times, but he’s not had the opportunity to come up and visit. Since we talked he’s been touring.”
The Harlem Children’s Zone, which is located at 125th Street and Madison Avenue, is a magnificent organization. Canada hopes to leave a lasting impression in the Harlem Community “That we care about our kids. They’re number one for us. We have a bunch of kids involved in education and youth development; and I think that’s going to be terrific,” he stated.
Canada, who was accompanied by his wife, and son, Geoffrey, Jr., and some 30 youth from the Harlem Children’s Zone, got an additional treat as Prince, who did not personally do the presentation of the checks, showed up shortly after the press conference for an on-stage sound check and spent some time talking with him and the students. They were further entertained as he rifted through some of the songs he would be performing at the Garden later that evening. Wearing a royal blue jump suit, with white calf-high fur boots, with see-through soles, and a white knit cap, he had youth and adults alike rocking as he tuned up, then played his guitar.
I heard one student say, “Hey Money, he’s the whole package!” Which is a fitting way to end this article. Prince is the epitome of showmanship, soul and heart - a wonderful, generous, fabulous heart.
Stay Blessed &