As 2017 winds to a close, students in Chicago are heading to class with their backpacks full of school supplies; teachers in eastern Ghana are holding classes in a school instead of a shed; and one Yazidi refugee is living in a famous actor’s home while finishing up his studies at the University of Chicago.
What links these seemingly disparate groups of people?
The kindness of strangers — or more specifically, celebrities.
Take Action: We Must Increase Funding for Education
In a year that’s been bookended by an executive order banning refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, like that Yazidi refugee, from entering the United States and a tax bill that threatens graduate school students, celebrities are stepping up to stand for education in the United States and around the world.
Leading the fight to ensure education for all kids all around the world are celebrities including Chance the Rapper, Rihanna, and Demi Lovato. Together, these celebrities and more have made sizable donations to fund education, met with world leaders, and built schools in far-reaching locations.
Increasing access to educational opportunities is one of the best ways to end extreme poverty, and the Global Goals call for “free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education” for all boys and girls.
Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, including goal number four: quality education. You can join us and call on world leaders to fund the Global Partnership for Education here.
Here are 10 celebrities who have helped to make this happen in 2017:
1/ Chance The Rapper
Chicago’s own superstar, Chance The Rapper, has had himself a year. The artist, whose real name is Chancelor Jonathan Bennett, headlined the Lollapalooza music festival, was named BET’s Best New Hip-Hop Artist, and hosted SNL, among other accomplishments.
But even more than his musical achievements, Bennett has had an outsized impact on education in his hometown of Chicago.
In March, he called on Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner to pass a bill to fund the Chicago Public School system, which was experiencing budget shortfalls that threatened to close down hundreds of schools. When Rauner failed to do so, Bennett put his money where his mouth was, donating $1,000,000 to his own earnings to help fund education.
And he wasn’t done there. In September, Bennett helped stuff 30,000 backpacks with school supplies to give out to low-income students. Finally, just a few days ago, he announced a partnership between himself and Google.org, the charitable wing of Google, that would give $1,500,000 to promote science and arts education in Chicago Public Schools.
Superstar and committed Global Citizen Rihanna has taken advantage of her huge social media following to reach out to world leaders to get them to fund education.
In 2016, Rihanna called on former French president Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to increase their funding to Education Cannot Wait. And it worked, as France upped its commitment to the fund by $2,000,000.
This past year, she was at it again — meeting in person with French President Emmanuel Macron and First Lady Brigitte Macron to discuss funding for another critical fund for global education: the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).
In between all of this, Rihanna took time to visit Malawi with her Clara Lionel Foundation to meet with students and learn about the educational challenges they face, again bringing awareness to the GPE.
3/ Lebron James
On the basketball court, Lebron James is known for his “posturizing” slam dunks, for the ice in his veins, and for his take-no-prisoners attitude, but off-the-court James is all about spreading kindness to others.
This year, James’s “I Promise School” was officially approved by the Akron Public School District and will soon be able to open up in the All Star’s hometown of Akron, Ohio.
It’s certainly not the first time James has “posted up” for education. In all, the Lebron James Family Foundation has raised more than $40,000,000 to send an estimate 1,100 low-income Akron students to college.
4/ Demi Lovato
It’s always impressive when a celebrity donates large sums of money to social causes, but it’s another matter when they take time out of their schedules to truly engage with and open up to the people who are often the anonymous recipients of this generosity.
That’s exactly what singer and Global Citizen Demi Lovato did when she joined education in emergencies activist and Syrian refugee Muzoon Almellehan in a Skype call to discuss the importance of mental health education.
“Mental health is something that’s really important to me and education is as well,” Lovato told Almellehan during the call. “I want to be able to do whatever I possibly can to help you.”
Shakira’s hips don’t lie, but neither do her lips.
In January, Shakira brought attention to an important challenge while speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland: increasing early childhood education funding to ensure all children have access to a pre-school education.
“If we really want peace, we need to invest in education,” Shakira said at the conference.
Shakira started her Pies Descalzos foundation when she was just 18-years-old. It has since affected more than 75,000 students, according to its website, working with students and teachers in four low-income communities in her native Colombia.
6/ Lil Jon
This Fall rapper Lil Jon made good on a birthday promise from two years ago: he built a school.
Lil Jon, also known as Jonathan Smith, partnered with the nonprofit Pencils of Promise to construct a school in eastern Ghana, where one in four kids miss out on a primary school education, according to the UN.
He might make this list again next year, as he is planning on constructing another in Ghana with the same organization.
7/ Bill Gates
Some donations by celebrities fly under the radar. But what about a donation of $1,700,000,000?
That’s how much philanthropist Bill Gates pledged toward education in US public schools this year through the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation — a partner of Global Citizen.
Gates hopes the funding boost will help educators and students alike pursue innovative solutions to the US educational system, which has fallen behind other developed countries in math and science scores.
8/ George and Amal Clooney
George and Amal Clooney are possibly Hollywood’s most well-known power couple.
What’s perhaps lesser known is their immense charity to those less fortunate than themselves. This year, the Clooneys announced that they had welcomed a Yazidi refugee into their home, so that he could continue his college education after being displaced by violent conflict. The couple also started a fund to send an estimated Syrian 3,000 refugees to school in Lebanon through the Clooney Foundation for Justice.
These gracious deeds were matched only perhaps by Amal Clooney’s continued legal work representing a Yazidi woman, Nadia Murad, who was held as an ISIS sex slave for 30 months.
9/ John Legend
There’s a saying that goes: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
But perhaps there should be. In Seattle, students whose families are unable to pay for school lunches are given a modified meal until their lunch debt is repaid.
Enter John Legend. In May, the musician made a sizable donation of $5,000 to a GoFundMe campaign aimed at erasing school lunch debt for all Seattle public school students. This donation helped the campaign more than double its initial goal of $21,000.
10/ Nicki Minaj
In 2016, the average American college graduate owed more than $35,000 in student loans.
In May of this year, rapper Nicki Minaj did her small part to help lessen this immense burden on American students. After posting to Twitter that she would pay off the student loans of any student who could show her proof of straight A’s, Minaj put her money where her mouth was — pledging more than $18,000 to various students.
She also noted that she plans to start a nonprofit foundation that will help similar students get out from under the weight of loans.
11/ Emily Blunt
One of the world's premiere power couples, Emily Blunt and John Krasinski have a vested interest in creating a world where everyone has access to quality education: the pair has two daughters — age two and four — who will soon be in school. That's why the couple is working with the Malala Fund to increase access to education for girls and women around the world. According to Variety, Blunt has been in communication with Malala about the Fund's programs in Colombia and India, and she and Krasinski plan to travel to one of those places this fall. They've also raised money for the Malala Fund — recently auctioning off a double date to the premiere of "A Quiet Place."