Prince: A Secret Warrior for Clean Energy and Social Justice

Prince was often in the news, but not for the good he was often doing behind the scenes. Lenscap Photography/
"He thought it was in poor taste for these celebrities to get millions of dollars and then write a check and have their publicists all over the media bragging about it. He was like, ‘This is ridiculous. We get enough attention. We’re celebrities.’”

That's environmental activist Van Jones talking about Prince with The Guardian. While there's been much talk about The Purple One's legacy on music, film and the arts, what was less well known — until his untimely death at least — was that Prince was also a rock star in the worlds of social justice, environmental activism and philanthropy.

In the case of Jones, for example, their relationship began when Prince tried to give him a $50,000 check to support his work with Green For All, an environmental justice organization working on everything from clean energy jobs for inner city youth to insuring a safe drinking supply. Jones was initially skeptical, refusing to accept anonymous checks because he was concerned that they might compromise the organization's values. The two eventually connected, however, and with Jones' help, Prince was able to fund the installation of solar panels for families in inner city Oakland — yet those families never knew who had funded it.

Besides clean energy, Prince also funded causes ranging from Black Lives Matter and campaigns to end gun violence, to #YesWeCode, an effort to train black kids in coding and technology. What's interesting is that Prince didn't just forego publicity for his good deeds; he actively avoided it. Part of such modesty may stem from his background as a Jehovah's Witness — a religion that frowns upon publicly displaying your good deeds — but part of it no doubt stems from the singer's legendary shyness and unwillingness to play along with corporate celebrity culture.

By all accounts, Prince's generosity encompassed individual as well as institutional causes. According to the Reverend Al Sharpton, Prince donated money to the family of Trayvon Martin. And Angie Stubblefield, the niece of Clyde Stubblefield — a drummer known for his work with James Brown — recently posted on Facebook that Prince was more than willing to help her uncle when he fell ill:

"When my Uncle Clyde Stubblefield was stricken with bladder cancer sixteen years ago, the medical costs to treat his cancer was quite expensive. Without medical insurance, my uncle had difficulty paying the bills that were quickly mounting. Prince respected my uncle's talent as a historical drummer and upon hearing about my uncle's financial situation paid $80,000 to cover his costs."

There was one condition, however:

"Prince also requested my uncle's wife not say anything about his generosity."