Nearly seven years ago, Steve Harvey was immortalized by Spike Lee as one of The Original Kings of Comedy. That film, along with a six-year run for his hit sitcom, The Steve Harvey Show, has firmly placed him among America’s most versatile funny men. Now, this superstar comedian and his team wake up more than 5 million listeners every morning with the Steve Harvey Morning Show, a successful syndicated radio program. When Harvey, 49, is not on the air, he performs his stand-up comedy routine in front of thousands of fans all around the country. But what you might not know about this ultra-private entertainer is that he’s also a prolific entrepreneur, an avid golfer, and a committed philanthropist. One of his passions is helping public schools in urban areas. His foundation, the Steve and Mary L. Harvey Foundation, purchases books and upgrades equipment for deserving schools. BLACK ENTERPRISE recently caught up with the Cleveland native to talk about his passion for giving.
The goal of the Steve and Mary L. Harvey Foundation is to improve the educational environment of high school students in the public schools. How did the foundation come about?
It’s a foundation I started years ago just as a way of giving back. My mother was so influential in the way I turned out as a person — the good part. The bad part I did on my own. My mother’s influence with spirituality and the church was important. I created a foundation because my mother would always tell me, “People are blessed to become a blessing.” Especially as minorities, we can ill afford to make it and not reach back. It’s about education and the needs of young people. Sometimes it goes beyond books, school supplies, and scholarships. We even purchased a central air conditioner unit for a school in Los Angeles.
How many schools have you helped so far?
I adopted 10 schools in Los Angeles. We did beautification projects with the schools and donated computers, band equipment, books, and backpacks filled with supplies. While I was in Jamaica on a golf trip I adopted one school. Then I adopted nine more.
Do you have any immediate plans for the foundation?
Hopefully on my 50th birthday, if God lets me live, I want to throw a benefit gala. I want to charge $500 a plate and give all the money to my foundation. And that will probably be the largest fundraiser. I’m trying to raise $300,000 to give to the schools.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the public school system?
I’m a product of the public school system. They’re so depleted financially. Funds are allocated to schools according to the tax bracket [the residents of their neighborhoods] are in. Schools in poor neighborhoods don’t get the same money as schools in rich districts. Once you start off behind, you end up behind.
Tell us about the foundation’s collaboration with PENCIL (Public Education Needs Civic Involvement in Learning).
PENCIL’s Principal for A Day program has been in existence for a while.