Just one year year ago this month, my mom was in the hospital with her life hanging in the balance. All I could do was pray for a miracle and listen over and over to Whitney Houston’s song “Miracle.” Now both are gone.
As each of us reacts in our own way to the incomprehensible news of Whitney’s passing, and as we mourn, she deserves something from us. She deserves to not only be acknowledged as one of the greatest voices of all time, but also as one who was on the right side of history.
I agree with those who would call her the voice of the post-Civil Rights generation, but she was also more than that. Her career was no mere segue from freedom fighting to arrival at some mythical post-racial moment. She picked up the baton from the civil rights movement and addressed the issues of her day. Whitney was a voice in the ongoing civil rights movement.
As Earl Ofari Hutchinson, President of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, said at the time of her passing, “Much will be said and written about Houston as an entertainer in the obits on her life and work, but she must and should also be remembered for the quiet contributions that she made to civil rights and humanitarian causes. Houston the humanitarian is a proud legacy that deserves to be remembered as much as Houston the star entertainer.”
We know that Whitney, as quietly as many celebrities do contributed to civil rights and humanitarian causes. But there were also causes she was involved in that weren’t so quiet. Her Whitney Houston Foundation For Children aided children with cancer or AIDS, homeless children, and worked toward the prevention of child abuse, taught children to read, and built inner city parks and playgrounds. She raised money for the United Negro College Fund, the Children’s Defense Fund and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. As the only artist to elevate National Anthem to the top charts after performing at the 1991 Super Bowl, she first donated her royalties to the Red Cross. After 9/11, Whitney re-released “The Star Spangled Banner” charity single to benefit the New York Firefighters Disaster Relief Fund and the New York Fraternal Order of Police Fund and raised more than $1 million.
Before the environmental movement was as popular as it is today, Whitney Rocked for the Rainforest in 1994, helping to raise over a million dollars. And as politicians today pretend to be so concerned about debt, Whitney signed on to the Jubilee 2000 campaign to end third world debt over a decade ago.
And as Hutchinson says, “Houston also was deeply concerned about opening doors and improving the image of blacks in the film industry. Her BrownHouse Productions was dedicated to providing opportunities and a production vehicle for blacks in the industry.” All of Whitney’s films are unforgettable, but what more significant contribution to the heirs of the civil rights generation from an heir than positive self-imagery? For example, fairy tales were never African American stories. The pictures in bedtime stories were like the pictures of Christ: as white as the pages on which they were printed. Little Black girls had only white princesses, white queens and white fairy godmothers to visualize and aspire to be. Whitney changed all that with Cinderella.