Who: Actress, hip-hop pioneer, author and philanthropist Queen Latifah has starred in numerous films, has a Grammy Award and a Golden Globe under her belt, and was the first hip-hop artist to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The New Jersey native, whose real name is Dana Owens, also received an Oscar nomination for her performance in “Chicago.” She has starred in hits including “Bringing Down the House” and “Hairspray” and will be seen Oct. 7 alongside Alfre Woodard and Phylicia Rashad in Lifetime’s adaptation of “Steel Magnolias,” which she executive produced.
What: Established in 1992 by Latifah’s mother, Rita L. Owens, in honor of her late son who died in a motorcycle accident, the Lancelot H. Owens Scholarship Foundation awards college scholarships to economically challenged students. Principally targeting high schools in underprivileged neighborhoods in the New York tri-state area, the foundation provides educational and leadership development opportunities to youth with promising futures, but who have limited financial resources to further their educational development at the college level. As a stipulation of the scholarship, recipients are asked to give back to their communities through volunteering and mentoring.
Why: Latifah and her mother wanted to do something positive following Lancelot’s death. “My Mom is an educator — a teacher — and she wanted create something positive out of that negative situation,” Latifah explains. “My brother would have been going to college … you couldn’t live in my house and not go to college.” What’s more, Latifah strongly believes in the idea of paying it forward. “You have to reach back because at the end of the day, you have to allow kids to learn what their talent is,” she says. “How can you not root for the underdog in life and give back?”
What’s next: “We’re refocusing it and rebuilding it,” Latifah says of the foundation. “Everyone who has been involved has been very close to my family, but we want to take it to a new level and make sure everyone has access to it. The goal is that you have the opportunity to get an education. Then it’s on you to make it happen.”