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Alicia Keys Launches $1B Fund for Black-Owned Business, Explains Why She's Performing at NFL Kickoff

Alicia Keys
Milan Zrnic

Alicia Keys

"As an artist, I’m always thinking about how can I use my platform to further racial equity."

Alicia Keys will be performing at the NFL’s Kickoff event for its 2020 season Thursday (Sept. 10), a moment that she’s tying in with a bigger announcement: The league will be contributing to a new $1 billion endowment fund aimed at supporting Black businesses and communities.

The new fund will come as several crises unfold around the world, including the global coronavirus pandemic and the protests against systemic racism and injustice that have erupted following the police killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others in the U.S. in recent months. Keys also penned a piece explaining her decision to perform at the NFL’s event and some of the goals of the fund (see below), and expanded on why she conceived of the fund in an interview with Billboard.

"We are already seeing the blatant injustices that are going on around us," Keys says. "As an artist, I’m always thinking about how can I use my platform to further racial equity. This fund is one of the answers and our goal is to empower Black America through investing in Black businesses, Black investors, institutions, entrepreneurs, schools and banks in a way to create sustainable solutions."

Keys tells Billboard that the idea for the fund came about as a way to help transform the protests and words of solidarity that have poured out in the past months into tangible action and support for the Black community, and for it to go beyond just a one-time charitable donation to continue to grow and develop over the years with the goal extending beyond the initial $1 billion endowment. Additional partners and contributors beyond the NFL haven’t been disclosed, though the aim is to create a multi-sector contributor field for the fund.

"The initial goal of $1 billion is to ensure a substantial commitment," Keys says. "Even with that it does not come close to closing the economic gap. The next steps are to reach out to different industries to invite them to invest in racial justice and create a multi-billion dollar endowment across business sectors."

For the NFL, participating in the fund is the latest step it has taken in its quest to support racial justice initiatives. The league has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years following its well-publicized issue with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began taking a knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustice in the U.S. in 2016 and subsequently filed a grievance against the league, since settled, accusing owners of colluding to keep him out of the NFL.

Those tensions have begun to ease of late and the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell began to take a more committed stand against racial and social injustice last August, when it announced a deal with Jay Z’s Roc Nation -- which manages Keys -- to partner on social justice initiatives through the League’s Inspire Change nonprofit, among other initiatives. Following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in late May, Goodell and the NFL doubled down on their commitment to address systemic issues in American society, with some on- and off-field changes that will go into effect this year, with phrases like "End Racism" and "It Takes All Of Us" painted in end zones, for example.

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"There is an urgent conversation that is happening across businesses about the importance of investing in Black America. I’m personally committed to holding corporations and institutions accountable, and in my conversations with the NFL, they reaffirmed their commitment to racial equity," Keys adds. "The prospect of true generational wealth for the Black community is long overdue and I’m grateful to express my purpose as an artist to advance that cause. I’ve been deeply inspired by the courage of Colin Kaepernick and the determination I have to see this through is meant to honor his commitment to social justice."

Read Keys’ full letter below.

While the streets of America are filled with rightful outrage, something has struck me deeply and I know I cannot turn away. None of us can. As Americans, we actually have to face each other, even if we haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. I continue to think: what opportunity for change can I evoke? How can I help to transform a culture so ripe for reimagining?

Today, I will be doing something I never thought I would do again. I’m performing for the NFL Kickoff event. My initial reaction was to decline because of some of the NFL’s past decisions. Yet I realized I HAVE to use my platform, we all need to use our platforms, every chance we get to press for racial equity.

It’s often said football is the microcosm of America. We all can see that deep, radical change is needed for our country and together we can all work to transform it. It will take each of us to understand that racism and racial injustice rely on our individual and collective silence and ignorance. If you know that there are two Americas - one that seems safe and full of possibilities and another where a racial hierarchy allows for Black Americans to be systematically brutalized and dehumanized - and you do not act, then you are complicit.

This truth requires restorative justice now. What are we going to do to move forward?

The workforce of America has to represent the diversity of this country. We have to strive for true population parity. The NFL has already committed to ensuring Black representation across-the-board, from employees to executives, contractors, suppliers and vendors.

The league has also committed to contribute to a billion-dollar endowment.

The fund will be steered by Black leadership with a clear goal to empower Black America. The fund will create long term solutions with a focus on Black entrepreneurs, businesses, communities, Black schools, banks, and other Black institutions, while addressing persistent social, economic and environmental disparities. It’s starting here, but the intention is to build a multi-billion-dollar endowment across multiple industries. Through our collective action, we can end the needless and preventable agony created by systemic racism.

We are pushing for an aggressive agenda to meet the urgent need of proper access, opportunity and inclusion. I am personally committed to creating meaningful conversations to hold corporations and institutions accountable for their contributions to racial justice.

It's time for sustainable action. It’s time to speak and document the truth about what Black Americans are facing and owed. The system was never set up for everyone to have an equal chance. Black creativity and labor continue to be oppressed, exploited, appropriated, and undercompensated. And it’s STILL the case today that the color of your skin can be a death sentence like the needless killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Bree Black, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many others. That’s why we see people from all walks of life, races and creeds taking to the streets in fury, protesting. As a Black mother, I want my sons to grow strong and healthy with confidence and without fearing for their lives.

Four years ago, Colin Kaepernick’s resistance by taking a knee in silent protest was a brave and necessary stand to increase our awareness of the acts and consequences of police brutality. He is still way ahead of his time. What is being accomplished by this performance and these new commitments are meant to deeply honor that this moment is a direct result of his courage and prophecy.

There has been forward motion - the NFL has been working with players throughout the league to support important initiatives in the Black community, like education reform, economic empowerment, voting rights and criminal justice reform. With collective action and the truth as our guide, a new future is within our grasp. The time is now for building the America we want and desperately need. I am optimistic that if we take action and operate with a sense of urgency, together we will renew America and finally put an end to the false notion of racial hierarchy.

Moving forward we must act together with love over hate, hope over fear and action over complacency to build the America we all know is possible.

We invite all corporations, NFL clubs, and organizations to join this mission to invest in racial justice.

Look forward to my call.

With love and light,

Alicia Keys.
Artist/Activist/Mother