What a wonderful way to end Black History Month.
In 2006 Rihanna said, “When I was young and I would watch television and I would see all the children suffering, I always said when I grow up I want to help. Not long after I was in the position where I could help. I started to visit all these children’s hospitals and I have a soft spot for kids. I just want to help and make sure they are happy. They can come to a Rihanna concert or have toys or gifts at Christmas.” She stayed true to her words. This simple, yet impactful quote from the multifaceted artist can serve as a microcosm of her philanthropic efforts throughout her career. Since then she has given 50 students from Brazil, Barbados, Guyana, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, and the US scholarships through her foundation.
At the tender age of 18, she created her Believe Foundation, which is dedicated to assisting terminally ill and disadvantaged children worldwide. Its mission is to assist and inspire children who suffer from life-threatening diseases including cancer, leukemia and AIDS, and help provide supplies for children in poorly funded public schools, as well as clothing for children in homeless shelters.
Because of Rihanna's work in her native island of Barbados and the charities she has founded over the years, the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations honored her with the 2017 Harvard Humanitarian of the Year award. This is what ultimately solidified their decision:
Rihanna has charitably built a state-of-the-art center for oncology and nuclear medicine to diagnose and treat breast cancer at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Bridgetown, Barbados,” said Dr. S. Allen Counter, director of the Harvard Foundation, in a statement. “She has also created the Clara Lionel Foundation Scholarship Program (named for her grandmother and grandfather) for students attending college in the US from Caribbean countries, and supports the Global Partnership for Education and Global Citizen Project, a multi-year campaign which will provide children with access to education in over 60 developing countries, giving priority to girls, and those affected by lack of access to education in the world today.
In a ceremony held Tuesday (Feb. 28), Rihanna thanked the university for the honor and delivered an inspiring speech -- but, of course, had to start off with a little pat on the back for her achievement.
"So I made it to Harvard," Rihanna began as she jokingly flipped her hair. "Never thought I'd be able to say that in my life, but it feels good."
As she continued, Rihanna explained that she has had a passion for helping people since she was a young girl watching commercials about how a quarter could help save a child's life. "I would think to myself, 'I wonder how many 25 cents I could save up to save all the kids in Africa.' And I would say to myself, 'When I grow up and I get rich, I'm gonna save kids all over the world.' I just didn't know I would be in a position to do that by the time I was a teenager," she laughed. The thing that stood out most about her speech and was very telling is that she didn't use the whole speech to give a rundown on her numerous philanthropic efforts. Instead, she grazed over a few she did that were near and dear to her and then centered most of the speech not on herself and how she's a humanitarian, but on how we all can be humanitarians. We don't need to be rich or famous to help someone. She isn't anything special as a humanitarian. She's just like everybody else. We all can be one. That's a beautiful message and it will inspire many.
"All you need to do is help one person, expecting nothing in return. To me, that is a humanitarian." She added, "What that little girl watching those commercials didn't know is that you don't have to be rich to be a humanitarian, you don't have to be rich to help somebody. You don't have to be famous, you don't even have to be college educated. But it starts with your neighbor... you just do whatever you can to help in any way that you can."
Because of her humanitarian work, Rihanna now sits with the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr., Desmond Tutu, Ruby Dee and many more distinguished individuals.
Watch the entire ceremony below starting at 36:48:
And as a bonus, here's a gallery of her outfit: