January 30, 2023

QUIET ACTIVISM: How Dolly Parton has silently funded Black schools for decades

QUIET ACTIVISM: How Dolly Parton has silently funded Black schools for decades

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There is little arguing over the fact that Dolly Parton is a national treasure, artistically and philanthropically. In fact, if ever the Pope canonized any American, it would have to be Dolly Rebecca Parton.

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And, unlike that episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, where the always politically incorrect Larry David character wanted his charitable donation to be screamed out to the world, Parton is humble, doesn’t emblazon her name all over every charity to which she donates, as seen in this week’s latest discovery by writer Michael Harriot, who Tweeted:

That’s right. Dolly Parton has silently funded uniforms, instruments, and equipment to predominantly Black high schools for decades.

Since the mid-1980s, the Sevierville, Tennessee songbird has notably done wonders in the world of literacy through her  Dollywood Foundation — Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library mails one book per month to each enrolled child from the time of their birth until they enter kindergarten.  A whopping 850,000 children a month across the U.S., Canada, the UK, Australia, and Ireland receive books from Parton to the tune of 100 million books, an unprecedented feat honored in 2018 by the Library of Congress.

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That same foundation, funded from Parton’s profits, has been hailed for bringing jobs and tax revenues to a previously depressed region of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, now bolstered by her booming theme park empire that is Dollywood. When the wildfires blazed through the Great Smoky Mountains in 2016, Parton’s foundation provided $1,000 a month for six months to over 900 area families affected by the fires.

She also has worked to raise money for the American Red Cross and HIV/AIDS-related charities, and, most recently, donated another $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in its help with the development of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

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It’s sort of funny how the bedazzled woman who admitted that “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap,” is so humble when it comes to her humanitarianism, but that’s what makes her worthy of sainthood.

What Parton doesn’t keep quiet is her support for the LGBTQ community (she’s an LGBTQ icon) and the Black Lives Matter movement, risking the alienation of a big chunk of her fan base, though nothing Parton does seems to alienate her base. That’s what makes her unique in these challenging, divisive times.

In a 2020 interview with Billboard, the typically apolitical (but left-leaning and fiercely feminist) Parton admitted that, indeed, black lives do matter:

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In 1946, Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, the “mother of women’s missions,” became the first American citizen to be canonized.

Hey, Pope Francis, it’s time for Saint Dolly Rebecca Parton, the “mother of humble humanity” to become the latest — even if she isn’t Catholic.

Lesley Abravanel’s first cassette tape was the 9 to 5 soundtrack. A former entertainment columnist who realized that fighting fascism is more important than keeping up with the Kardashians, Abravanel has been to Dollywood several times and is a self-professed Parton stan. 

Follow her on Twitter@LesleyAbravanel.

This is an opinion column that solely reflects the opinions of the author.

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