Celebrity certainly has its perks. Money, fame… always the best parking space at special events…
Most celebrities are content to enjoy these advantages and spend their careers making sure they don’t lose them. However, this week, we are reminded of two late giants in the news who used their celebrity to influence the world around them.
One of those giants, of course, was the iconic King of Pop, Michael Jackson, who passed a year ago this week at the young age of 50. The other was literally a giant and an NBA star named Manute Bol who stood 7 foot 7 and died this past weekend at only 47 years old.
Both of these talented, internationally-known figures, sadly, died way too young. But I’m not going to dwell on their early deaths; instead, I’ll focus on their lives and what they shared, aside from their prominent status.
Both men were committed and tireless givers. They were tremendous advocates for the causes and charities they backed.
Michael’s giving on behalf of children, the poor and victims of war, AIDs and starvation is, of course, the stuff of legend. The man’s heart was, at least, as huge as his checkbook and that is certainly saying something.
Michael pretty much set the bar when it came to celebrities and giving, and it went well beyond the levels he had to contribute for mere tax write-offs. His involvement in We are the World and countless other world healing initiatives is well documented and will continue to serve as an example for those who achieve fortune and fame.
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Manute Bol used his basketball celebrity as a mere tool for his lifelong dedication to his beloved home country of the Sudan, a country ravaged by civil war for the past three decades. Bol, a son of the Dinka people, had over 200 relatives and friends killed in the conflict over the years. He often risked his own life to promote the cause of unifying the warring factions there and bring about peace.
Bol took part in peace talks, appeared before Congress, protested outside of embassies, visited refugee camps and gave millions of dollars to impact the situation in the Sudan. He reportedly exhausted the last of his personal money supporting family members there. Even on his deathbed, he was working to raise funds for the completion of a school in southern Sudan that could educate 150 students year-round.
We should keep in mind that neither of these celebrities had to do these things. They could have just as easily stayed in their American homes and counted their millions.
But they didn’t. Instead, they chose to change the world about them.
So in tribute to their legacies, when you remember these two men, think about those who, today, are suffering all over our world and how we can find it in our hearts, our minds and our busy lives to somehow make a difference… like for those in the Gulf region who have lost their income, businesses, houses and hopes… or those losing their homes and jobs across this country due to foreclosure or recession.
I’m not going to tell you what to give or who to give to –whether it be with your money, your voice, prayers or time– but I do want you to think about dedicating yourself to helping somebody somewhere and maybe, one day, leaving your own individual legacy of giving behind.
And this week, as we think about how we can make a difference, let’s give it up for Michael and Manute.
Stephanie Robinson is President and CEO of The Jamestown Project, a national think tank focused on democracy. She is an author, a Lecturer on Law at the Harvard Law School and former Chief Counsel to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Stephanie reaches 8 to 10 million listeners each week as political commentator for the popular radio venue, The Tom Joyner Morning Show. Visit her online at www.StephanieRobinsonSpeaks.com