Celebrities are bestowed with platforms able to reach hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. Black celebrities have a special opportunity. Today, when Black people are often discredited and misunderstood, many Black celebrities are revered and praised by people of all backgrounds, races, ages and social standings.
These Black celebrities were challenged by others to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge — a campaign involving dumping a bucket of ice water on someone’s head to promote awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease — within 24 hours.
The number of celebrities speaking out about the deaths of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old killed Aug. 9 by police in Ferguson, Missouri, and Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old shot in Sanford, Florida, by an armed neighborhood watch coordinator on Feb. 26, 2012, pales in comparison to those promoting their efforts for a cure for ALS. As of Aug. 23, $165,000 has been raised for Brown’s family and $5.5 million has been donated to ALS. As the memories of young Black men such as Brown and Martin struggle to live on after the initial outrage and protests fade, Black celebrities are in a position to spark awareness, action and change.
Media mogul and businesswoman Oprah Winfrey accepted the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, challenging movie director Steven Spielberg and others in the name of charitable giving and finding a cure. Winfrey, who is best known for her award-winning talk show, has yet to speak publicly about Brown’s killing.
However, Winfrey’s network OWN announced “it was sending Iyanla Vanzant — minister, spiritual life coach, host of OWN’s Iyanla, Fix My Life — to Ferguson, Missouri, following the death of Brown.” Less than two weeks after the teen’s death, Vanzant traveled to Ferguson for a 36-hour visit.
Will Smith, an award-winning actor and rapper, participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, challenging singer Beyonce and rapper Jay Z.
Smith’s fame from his TV show of the 1990s, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and films such as Independence Day (1996) and Men in Black (1997) helped his challenge video garner over a half-million views and bring great awareness to ALS.
However, since the killing of Brown, he has not spoken publicly about the incident. During the Martin case, Smith was noticeably absent as well.