(The Root) — Months ago, hip-hop mogul Jay Z sparked a fierce debate with his comments on charity. Responding to criticism by civil rights legend Harry Belafonte that Jay and his wife, superstar Beyoncé, could and should do more in terms of activism and philanthropic giving to benefit the black community, Jay Z had this to say: “I’m offended by that because first of all, and this is going to sound arrogant, but my presence is charity. Just who I am. Just like Obama’s is. Obama provides hope. Whether he does anything, the hope that he provides for a nation, and outside of America, is enough.”
The comments generated extensive chatter, mockery and criticism — including from yours truly — not only because they sounded equal parts narcissistic and ridiculous on their face but also because as one of the wealthiest celebrities in the world, Jay Z has the financial means to help millions of people through charitable giving. So far he has chosen not to do so. As previously reported, an analysis of his actual charitable giving indicates that he is not so charitable after all:
In 2010, Jay-Z only reportedly donated $6,431 of his $63 million earnings to his own Shawn Carter Scholarship Fund, and Beyonce is being drawn into the mix too. Out of the $87 million she earned in 2010, not a single penny went to her husband’s foundation. According to Jay Z’s representative, Jana Fleishman:
“Jay, along with his family, provided office support, overhead support, Mrs. Gloria Carter’s 100 percent effort and time [his mother], computers, FedEx expenses, accounting, and treasury function support,” she wrote in an email to The Daily, adding[,] “This was at no cost to the charity.”
But that office support didn’t add up to much that year. According to tax records, $1,209 was spent on office expenses, $1,401 for the telephone, and $4,696 for other expenses. Of the three charitable donations that were given to the Shawn Carter Fund that year, which totaled $218,849, Jay’s was the smallest.
Making Jay Z’s attitude about philanthropy all the more baffling is that he has spent much of the last few years remaking his image from that of a former drug dealer to a polished celebrity with the kind of crossover appeal that includes executing performance art in museums and hanging with presidents. In other words, he emerged as a cut above the stereotype that people tend to associate with many rappers.
But as polished and mainstream as Jay Z strives to be now, recently two other rappers set an example for him and all celebrities about the meaning of true charity. After learning that Anna Angel had lost her boyfriend and five children to a tragic mobile-home fire, The Game contacted his friend and fellow rapper Drake, and the two split a $20,000 donation to help Angel with the funeral expenses.
The two men may not be perfect. (None of us are.) Both have espoused some downright misogynistic lyrics. They don’t get a pass for that. But they do deserve credit for their incredibly generous gesture and for hopefully setting an example in the celebrity world that you should never be too famous or too busy to help others who are less fortunate.
And that true charity involves more than just your presence.