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Last year Rihanna crashed the charts with “Work,” her collaboration with Drake. This afternoon (February 28) at Harvard University, the Barbadian singer and pop star was recognized as the 2017 Harvard Humanitarian of the Year for a different type of work — the charity kind.
“So, I made it to Harvard,” Rihanna told the assembled crowd of students at the Sanders Theatre as she flipped her hair. “I never thought I’d be able to say that in my life.”
But it was Robyn Rihanna Fenty’s life as a philanthropist that took center stage, and her charitable work has been steadfast since 2006, when the singer was just 18. Her 10-plus years of work as a philanthropist culminated today when she accepted the prestigious award from the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations.
While often framed as the shameless party girl, Rihanna has founded two charities (the Believe Foundation and Clara Lionel Foundation) and has supported UNICEF and DKMS in the past 10 years of her flourishing musical career. Most recently, she went to Malawi as an ambassador for the Global Partnership for Education to talk to government officials and educators about how to improve the country for the next generation of Malawians. Her efforts have gone beyond those of most celebrities, although she’s contributed to some of the staples too, like joining H&M and MAC Viva Glam’s campaigns against AIDS and HIV.
Rihanna cited being five or six years old and watching television ads to help children in need as the point when she started thinking about how much money it would take to save all the children in Africa.
“We’re all human, and we all just want a chance,” Rihanna said. “People make it seem way too hard, man. You don’t have to be rich to be a humanitarian… It starts with your neighbor. The person right next to you. You just do whatever you can to help in any way that you can.”
Rihanna then challenged everyone in the audience to start contributing to a cause they care about.
“My grandmother used to say if you’ve got a dollar, you have plenty to share,” she added.
At the Tuesday ceremony, three Harvard students gave speeches about different aspects of Rihanna’s philanthropy, from her activism on social media to her donations to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Bridgetown, Barbados.
“She provides a much-needed supplement to white feminism,” student Doni Lehman said. “Through your power, you help other women realize their own.”
Fellow student Yousra Neberai cited Rihanna’s quote about our responsibilities to help others whenever possible as something that has embodied the spirit of the award. “Thank you Rihanna,” Neberai said, “for inspiring us to use our abilities to work, work, work.”
Check out photos from the ceremony, by Victoria Wasylak: