“We’re at a place now in this country where we’re going to have to work together and stop looking at each other’s affiliations and start taking care of one another. These are desperate times.” —Prince
On April 21, 2016, it seemed as though the world just stopped. When the unimaginable reports of Prince’s passing were confirmed that Thursday morning, humanity was at once awash with shock and sadness.
Here in the Twin Cities, thousands upon thousands flocked to Paisley Park and First Avenue both to mourn and celebrate the legacy of their hometown hero. Likewise, people in cities across America and beyond gathered in public spaces to pay homage to this global cultural icon.
Yet, in addition to the tributes and accolades, which were predictable (genius, provocateur, guitar god, multi-instrumentalist, superlative songwriter, visionary, etc.), emerged another imposing narrative: Prince the philanthropist.
To many that may have inhabited Prince’s inner circle at one time or another, this was not news; Prince spent his entire career privately supporting causes that were near and dear to his heart.
Upon his death, however, the expansive scope and impact of his charitable activities started to come to light, mostly from accounts of those who’d previously been sworn to secrecy.
Through CNN commentator and activist Van Jones, talk show host Tavis Smiley, and others, America learned that Prince was a financial force behind organizations such as #YesWeCode, Green For All, Youth 2 Leaders, and Powerhouse. As Jones told CNN at the time, “There are people who have solar panels on their houses right now in Oakland, Ca., that don’t know Prince paid for them.”
And while his giving was spread across a multitude of causes — social justice, economic empowerment, technology, the environment, the arts, and health and wellness (he was a long-time supporter of former protégé Taja Sevelle’s organization Urban Farming) — Prince valued young people and education as much as anything else.
For example, in the 1980s, Prince gave educator Marva Collins an initial sum of $500,000 to support her Westside Preparatory in Chicago’s Garfield Park neighborhood, with the belief that kids from the most impoverished of backgrounds will succeed academically if afforded adequate tools and resources. He continued to fund Collins’ efforts for years to come, and in 1994, featured her in the video for “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.”
Additionally, in 2011, Prince donated one million dollars to The Harlem Children’s Zone, as well as a quarter million dollars each to the Uptown Dance Academy and American Ballet Theatre.
Locally, over the years, Prince donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Prep Network of Schools, The Bridge for Youth, Urban Ventures, Circle of Discipline, and numerous other endeavors, including a fund to support the victims of the I-35W bridge collapse tragedy. And still, his generosity knew no geographical bounds.
A recent query into the tax records of his former Love 4 One Another charity by Indianapolis television station WISH revealed that Prince also contributed to schools, shelters, and other community-based agencies from coast to coast and manifold points in between.
Regardless of everything we’ve learned these past three years, as WCCO-TV’s Reg Chapman notes, “It’s possible the public will never know how much he gave, and to how many people.”
Prince’s benevolent legacy lives on
Fortunately, Prince’s legacy of leadership and benevolence is being carried on today by the PRN (Prince Rogers Nelson) Alumni Foundation. Established in 2017, the PRN Alumni Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with a mission to “continue the generosity of their late boss who supported opportunities for underprivileged youth to grow in music, technology, the arts, and education.”
The foundation also supports alumni members in need, as well as urban farming initiatives that promote nutritional education and cultivate sources of healthy foods in communities where they are otherwise scarce.
Made up of former employees of Paisley Park, PRN Productions, NPG Records, Love 4 One Another, and any and all of Prince’s other enterprises over the course of four decades, the PRN Alumni Foundation is a volunteer force of musicians, producers, managers, administrative staff, visual artists, wardrobe designers, technical directors, stylists, film editors, valets, makeup artists, bodyguards, custodians, and more.
The former head of Prince’s NPG Records and PRN Alumni Foundation president Jacqui Thompson explains, “To those of us that make up and support the foundation, celebrating Prince is about more than just the music. It’s passing on his message of loving one another and taking care of those less fortunate than ourselves.”
Among the foundation’s primary goals are to reach youth from all over the world. Thompson adds, “We believe that one way to keep Prince’s legacy alive is to connect with the younger generations to make sure they recognize not only his phenomenal talent but his humanity. And in doing so, helping to recognize the humanity of all of us.”
Amen to that.
To learn more about PRN Alumni Foundation, please visit their website at prnalumni.org.
Tony Kiene’s experience in the Twin Cities nonprofit and entertainment industries includes work with Minneapolis Urban League, Penumbra Theatre, Hallie Q. Brown, and Pepé Music.
He welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.