Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has entered a different orbit – both literally and with his philanthropy. After returning from his successful flight into space, Bezos announced he was awarding journalist Van Jones $100 million to give to any charities of his choice. Bezos also awarded the same amount to celebrity chef José Andrés to do the same.
The “surprise” philanthropic initiative is called the Courage and Civility Award, which Bezos said he founded to honor courageous individuals who are working to change the world with passion and civility.
“We need unifiers and not vilifiers,” Bezos said at a press conference announcing the award. “We need people who argue hard and act hard for what they believe. But they do that always with civility and never ad hominem attacks. Unfortunately, we live in a world where this is too often not the case. But we do have role models.”
Visibly overcome with excitement, Jones told CNN he “literally lost the ability to speak” when he found out he was one of the inaugural recipients of the award. He also thanked Bezos and his girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez, for taking a chance to “bet” on him.
Jones has a non-profit called Dream Corps, which focuses on finding bipartisan solutions to reform the criminal justice system. However, he seemed ready to share the love and money with other changemakers.
“The only thing I worry about when you say courage, I haven’t always been courageous. But I know the people who are, and they get up every day on the front lines of grassroots communities, they don’t have much but they’re good people, they fight hard and they don’t have enough support,” Jones said, according to The Hill.
Andrés, who is also known for his philanthropic efforts to fight hunger across the globe through his non-profit World Central Kitchen, said the money was the “start of a new chapter for us.”
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Bezos said Jones and Andrés were free to do “what they want” with the funding. “They can give it all to their own charity or they can share the wealth. It is up to them,” Bezos said.
Jones gave examples of how the money could be used for good. “Can you imagine grassroots folks from Appalachia, from the hood, Native American reservations, having enough money to be able to connect with the geniuses that disrupted the space industry, disrupted taxis and hotels and bookstores, to start disrupting poverty. To start disrupting pollution. To start disrupting the $90 billion prison industry together,” Jones said.
He added Jeff Bezos’ gift “lifted the ceilings off of the dreams of humanity,” making it easier for people to make the world a better place. “If you take people on front lines and their wisdom and their genius and their creativity and you give them a shot, they’re not just gonna turn around neighbors, they’re gonna turn around this nation,” Jones said.