Who is Van Jones – and what will he do with the $100m Jeff Bezos has given him?

The award ‘recognised leaders who aim high’

Helen Elfer
Tuesday 20 July 2021 22:03
Jeff Bezos to give away $200 million to Van Jones and José Andrés after trip to space
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Shortly after touching down from a trip into space, billionaire Jeff Bezos wasn’t done making headlines – at a post-flight press conference, he announced a new $100 million philanthropic award.

The new philanthropic initiative is dubbed the “Courage and Civility Award”, which Mr Bezos said “recognised leaders who aim high, and who pursue solutions with courage and who always do so with civility”.

Van Jones, political commentator on CNN and co-founder of Dream Corps, was one of two recipients of the “Courage and Civility Award”.

He responded to the news with an emotional speech thanking the Amazon and Blue Origin founder.

“Lauren [Sanchez, partner of Bezos] and Jeff don’t do nothing small, man, they don’t do anything small, they just don’t do it. They dream big, they love big, and they bet big. And you bet on me, and I appreciate it,” Mr Jones said at the press conference on Tuesday when the award was announced.

Dream Corps is a nonprofit organisation focused on bipartisan solutions for criminal justice reform, reports The Hill.

According to the organisation’s website, it also pushes reform in two other areas. Dream Corps TECH is “a national program cultivating future leaders and entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds” and Dream Corps Green for All “works at the intersection of the environmental, economic, and racial justice movements to advance solutions to poverty and pollution”.

The Courage and Civility Award gives $100 million to recipients who are free to put the money towards any charities or nonprofits of their choice. The other recipient was José Andrés, who founded World Central Kitchen, a non-governmental organisation which combats world hunger.

In his remarks, Mr Jones said he has not always been courageous, but knows many who are, referencing those from grassroots communities who advocate for change.

He said: "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.”

“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," he continued.

"If you take people on frontlines and their wisdom and their genius and their creativity and you give them a shot, they’re not just gonna turn around neighbours, they’re gonna turn around this nation," he added

Mr Jones thanked Mr Bezos for "lifting the ceiling off of people’s dreams”.

“You have lifted the ceilings off of the dreams of humanity today. And that’s an important thing. Don’t be mad about it. When you see somebody reaching for the heavens, be glad, because a lot more heaven is up there to reach for. And we can do that together,” he said.

“If this small group of people can make miracles happen in outer space, a bigger group of people can make miracles happen down here, and we’re going to do it,” he added.

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