In October 2008, the unthinkable happened to Jennifer Hudson and her family. Her mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew, Julian King, were slain, and the tragedy made national headlines for months. With such devastation, it would be understandable for anyone to shut down, but Hudson and her sister, Julia, found a way to turn their pain into motivation to help thousands of children.
In 2009, the sisters founded the Julian D. King Gift Foundation in honor of Julia’s late son and Jennifer’s nephew. The foundation provides underprivileged children with school supplies, and honors them during the holiday season. The main events occur in their hometown of Chicago, with fundraising efforts across the country.
“I’ve been blessed to achieve all of my dreams I’ve ever had to this point,” Hudson says. “So it’s all about making new ones and at this point, I get my biggest kicks off of just helping someone else.”
Every year since 2011, the foundation has thrown a Hatch Day event to celebrate Julian’s birthday on Aug. 14. He used to make birthday invitations for those in his life and call it Hatch Day. The foundation celebrates his memory and his passion for school by donating backpacks and school supplies to thousands of children in Chicago on his birthday.
This past Hatch Day, the foundation reached 6,800 children, ranging from kindergarten to grade 12. It’s not just the students that love it, either — the parents might even appreciate it more.
“Hatch Day is a big relief,” says Erwin Ezell, a Chicago parent. “It’s a comfort knowing that someone else cares about your family besides you.”
The foundation also holds an annual toy drive during the holiday season, providing underprivileged children with gifts. Since the year of the foundation’s inception, they’ve also thrown a Christmas Eve dinner. There, children who have kept up with their grades and participated in an essay contest can have dinner with Jennifer and Julia Hudson.
Jennifer Hudson has made such a difference that she was awarded with the inaugural Samsung Galaxy Impact Award, which recognizes those who use social media and engagement to advance philanthropic causes, at Variety’s Power of Women event in October. But the recognition isn’t what it’s about.
“When you are doing things that you’re just simply passionate about, you don’t think about being acknowledged about it,” she said while receiving the award. “The reward is seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces and the lives that you’re changing and the difference that you’re making.”
She’s also been honored at the Grammys on the Hill Awards and VH1’s Do Something Awards for her work with the foundation.
When it comes down to it, it’s Hudson’s background that inspires her and allows her to inspire others.
“Where I come from, it’s always about negativity and who shot who,” she says. “But to show them and to tell them, ‘Well, if I did it, I came from where you came from, you can do it too.’ That is our goal.”