A week after the death of Prince, much has been said about the man and his music. We’ve all had “Purple Rain” playing in our heads thanks to countless remembrances shared on Facebook and elsewhere.
But the story of Prince the philanthropist has surfaced a little more quietly than the decades of music he left us to remember him by when he died at age 57 on April 21. Interviews with those who knew and worked closely with Prince have shed light on the issues that were near and dear to the popular musician.
— #YesWeCode (@yeswecode) April 21, 2016
One of the organizations that benefited from Prince’s generosity was Yes We Code, an Oakland-based initiative aimed at connecting low-income youth to the technology sector.
Activist and political commentator Van Jones had a memorable appearance on Don Lemon’s CNN program in which Jones tearfully recalled how his friend Prince was an incredible humanitarian and helped to create Yes We Code.
“He was a Jehovah’s Witness, so he was not allowed to speak publicly about any of his good acts, but I was one of the people in his life who helped him with all of that,” Jones said on CNN. “He helped to create Yes We Code, which now has 15 major technology companies working with kids in the ‘hood, getting them ready to have jobs in Silicon Valley. That was Prince.”
On its website this week, Yes We Code added a large banner image of Prince linking to a page thanking the superstar for his “inspired vision.”
“Prince’s commitment to ensuring young people of color have a voice in the tech sector continues to impact the lives of future visionaries creating the tech of tomorrow,” reads a statement on the page.
In another CNN interview, Jones described Prince’s take on the 2012 shooting death of black Florida teen Trayvon Martin and how he related it back to opportunity and ultimately technology and starting Yes We Code.
“A black kid wearing a hoodie might be seen as a thug,” Jones recalled Prince saying. “A white kid wearing a hoodie might be seen as a Silicon Valley genius. Let’s teach the black kids how to be like Mark Zuckerberg.”
“He liked the fact that I was bringing it to the hood,” Jones said. “He just thought it was an amazing way to create jobs. He was always about economic independence.
Fittingly, Jones said Prince was not easy to define politically — he wasn’t red or blue.
“He was purple,” Jones said. “With one sentence, you would think he was Republican, because he’d be talking about the economy, and with the next, you’d think he’s a liberal Democrat, because he was talking about the need to fight racism. It was a flow of insights and inspiration. At the end of the day, it was purple politically.”
On MSNBC, Kwame Anku, a former national development director for Yes We Code, was asked why Prince was focused on tech.
“I think a lot of it comes from the fact that he himself was an early innovator in technology,” Anku said. “When you think about the music in the ’70s and ’80s, he was an innovator. He was designing algorithms for keyboard sounds like no one had ever heard before.”
Anku added that Prince was also on the forefront even when it came to technology in business.
“People forget, ‘Crystal Ball,’ that album, he came up with crowdfunding before there was crowdfunding,” Anku said.
Prince was certainly not alone in promoting opportunity through technology. GeekWire this week reported on Code.org and how the Seattle-based organization has secured $23 million in donations from huge names in tech to promote computer science education around the world.