Tina Knowles-Lawson knows a thing or two about girls who run the world, which is why Beyoncé and Solange’s mother is on a mission to empower more. This month, she and husband Richard Lawson are opening the Where Art Can Occur Theater Center in North Hollywood.
“We’re both firm believers that you have to have a space for the community, especially right now, because all the music programs are being cut out of schools,” Knowles-Lawson says. “When my kids were young, there was a place called The Shrine of the Black Madonna [which is also a cultural and community center] in Houston, Texas, where they grew up. It impacted my children. I always wanted to have something like that.”
Knowles-Lawson will be honored with the Community Commerce Impact Award, presented by SheaMoisture at Variety’s Power of Women luncheon April 21 in New York. “This award is about leveraging commerce to provide sustainable economic and social empowerment for women,” says Richelieu Dennis, the CEO of Sundial Brands. “What Tina has done has enabled women to rise up and stand on their own two feet.”
Among the org’s initiatives is a one-year mentorship program for boys and girls ages 12-14. Her husband’s group is called Richard’s Warriors, while Tina’s Angels are 15 girls from Kipp LA schools, based in an underserved Los Angeles neighborhood. Knowles-Lawson meets with the girls every Saturday.
“You want kids to dream big,” she says. “It’s like a crash course in everything you need to know to be a well-rounded young lady.”
The girls are introduced to working professionals including lawyers and doctors. She personally offers lessons on etiquette, self-esteem and hygiene. And, naturally, there are star-studded perks such as concert tickets and special appearances from “honorary angels” like Knowles-Lawson’s superstar offspring, her stepdaughter Bianca Lawson, as well as Kelly Rowland, Jennifer Hudson, Holly Robinson Peete and other famous friends.
Knowles-Lawson’s eagerness to mentor stems from her own humble beginnings. “My brother’s girlfriend took me to see the Alvin Ailey dancers and it changed my life,” she says. “I was from this small town and my parents were poor. My mom did the best she could in terms of exposing us to what she could with the money she had, but to see all of those beautiful women of color, that looked like me, up there dancing — it made me want more.”
That experience recently came full circle when she took the girls to see the Ailey company perform. “I get emotional about it,” she says, noting they went backstage afterward to meet the dancers. “The best surprise was that Beyoncé was hiding in the dressing room.”
The Knowles family has a long history of philanthropy — though they’re often reluctant to discuss it. “It’s always been a part of our DNA,” Knowles-Lawson says. “We have always been a family that’s given back. We just don’t make a lot of noise about it.”
Contributions include the Beyoncé Cosmetology Center at the Phoenix House, a nonprofit rehabilitation center in Brooklyn; the Knowles-Rowland Center for Youth in Houston; and the Knowles-Temenos Place Apartments in Houston, originally established for Hurricane Katrina victims, it now houses survivors of domestic abuse and individuals trying to get back on their feet. Knowles-Lawson and her husband, Richard, also have plans for a mobile theater to provide free performances in underserved communities, as part of the WACO Theater.
Later this month, Knowles-Lawson will throw a fundraising gala to assist with WACO’s expansion. “It’s definitely a family affair,” she says, of her daughters co-chairing the April 29 event in Los Angeles. “My girls do a lot of philanthropic work, but they are very private about it. For them to do this is really big, but I’m mom, so I can kind of twist their arms.”