Samuel L. Jackson and Stephen Colbert Team Up to Fund America’s Classrooms
If there’s anything to be learned from watching Pulp Fiction or The Hateful Eight, it’s that when Samuel L. Jackson tells you to do something, you should probably do it. Now the actor has joined forces with nearly 60 other high-profile supporters—including Ashton Kutcher, Serena Williams, Sheryl Sandberg, and Russell Simmons—on #BestSchoolDay, a one-day effort to fund thousands of public school classroom projects on DonorsChoose.org.
Since 2000, the nonprofit education crowdfunding website has offered public school educators a crowdfunding alternative to paying for books, supplies, or field trips from their own sometimes threadbare pockets. It announced on Thursday that its coalition of celebrity backers has committed just over $14 million to fund nearly 12,000 projects across the nation—and Jackson wants the public to pitch in and help. “You too can make today the best school day by supporting a classroom on DonorsChoose.org,” he says in the video above.
The flash-funding campaign is the brainchild of The Late Show host Stephen Colbert, who sits on the national board for DonorsChoose.org. Last year he funded all the projects on the website for his home state of South Carolina. In the hopes of making a national impact, Colbert took the idea of getting other celebs on board to the nonprofit.
“#BestSchoolDay is probably the best thing I’ve ever been involved in,” Colbert told CBS This Morning on Thursday. “It’s my favorite charity because teachers in classrooms all around the country can put up any project they want to teach their children or help their kids with but they don’t have the funds for.”
The need for campaigns such as this is there. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, public education budgets nationwide were decimated. Although the economy has recovered, governments continue to slash funding for schools. Roughly 2,000 students in Boston walked out of class on Monday and Tuesday over education budget cuts that would chop Advanced Placement classes and electives. On Wednesday, officials in Detroit announced that the city’s public schools are so broke, the system can’t pay its teachers after April 8.
Many of the donors are supporting school funding requests in their hometown or home state. Jackson funded all the projects in his hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee. “We all graduated on time. Nobody dropped out,” the actor said in an individual video he filmed in Australia for the effort. “We supported each other, and our teachers supported us. I loved my education in the Chattanooga school system.”
Williams shared that she is funding every project in her impoverished hometown of Compton, California. Simmons is supporting his old neighborhood, one that every fan of Run-D.M.C. knows: Hollis, Queens. The hip-hop mogul said in the video that he’s ponying up cash for teacher projects so schools in the New York City neighborhood “can be competitive, high-quality schools like the ones I was bused to.”
Meanwhile, Kutcher is backing every project in Iowa. “They probably believed in me more than I believed in myself,” he said of his teachers in his hometown of Cedar Rapids. Other supporters are funding projects in an adopted location. Bill and Melinda Gates chose to fund all of the projects in New York City’s South Bronx because that’s where DonorsChoose.org founder and CEO Charles Best used to teach.
“Teachers have a hard time providing these experiences when they have to go into their own pockets to buy school supplies,” said Best in a statement. “We’re so grateful to the people who have kicked off this philanthropic flashmob, and we hope that everyone—no matter the size of their wallet—will join this act of mass generosity by supporting a classroom project and committing to make every day a #BestSchoolDay.”
Meanwhile, to give an added boost to donations from the public, Sergey Brin, the cofounder of Google, and Brian Acton, the cofounder of WhatsApp, pledged to match the public’s donations to any project listed on DonorsChoose.org, up to $3.2 million. “The reason they’re doing it, and the reason I did it, is that I know the real heroes are the teachers who are too often themselves spending their own money for these projects,” Colbert said.