As a hip-hop icon, Sean “Puffy” Combs, a.k.a. Puff Daddy, has successfully worn many hats, among them producer, performer, entrepreneur--and, unbeknownst to some, philanthropist.
Like other prominent entertainers and business leaders who have transcended humble beginnings, Harlem native Combs--who is the founder and CEO of Bad Boy Entertainment, a company that has spawned rap superstars like the Notorious B.I.G., Faith Evans, Lil’ Kim and Mase--decided a few years ago to try to give something back to the community that bred him.
His gift was Daddy’s House Social Programs, a foundation established in 1994 and based in New York City aimed at furnishing education, recreation and sustenance for underprivileged urban youth, including homeless and foster children.
“At Daddy’s House, our goal is to help young people prepare for today’s world by giving them hope and direction,” says the 29-year-old Combs. “I want to provide opportunities for those who [are] not as fortunate as I was.”
The organization is run chiefly out of the YMCA facilities in Harlem, where volunteers work weekends in a subleased space. The executive director is Sister Souljah, the hip-hop performer and activist whose views on race made her the subject of controversy in the early ‘90s.
Souljah says that she first met Combs about 12 years ago when she was organizing concerts to help send homeless children to summer camp.
“Puffy was just getting started in the music business,” Souljah says. “But he was interested in the kind of work I did. Then I ran into him at a Jodeci concert, after he had become successful. This was like 1993. He said that I was the only person he would really trust to run his [foundation]. . . . I was interested because it would be the same work that I had done all along, but it would be complemented by more resources.”
Souljah describes the Daddy’s House programs as operating on two levels. The first is instruction. Every Saturday and Sunday, from September until May, the foundation holds classes “in all of the academic disciplines, as well as life-management skills, college preparation, computers, and manhood and womanhood training.” These weekend programs, called the DHSP Weekend Boys and Girls Club, also includes a swim team and a basketball team.
The second tier is fun--that is, special events--such as Kwanzaafest, celebrating Christmas and Kwanzaa that Daddy’s House hosts annually for anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 young people.
There is a Daddy’s House International Travel Group that takes 10 to 15 of the programs’ students each year on a trip. Last year it was to South Africa. And every summer, DHSP co-sponsors a course in “Economics and the Stock Market” with a Wall Street firm. Five days a week for one month the kids are instructed in economics by a college professor, and they receive visits and presentations from financial experts and investors.
Every Thanksgiving, DHSP feeds more than 1,000 homeless families in Harlem.
Daddy’s House also runs a sleep-away camp, where it sends about 200 children from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut for three weeks each summer. The camp, for children 6 to 16, has been set up at various sites in upstate New York and features a different theme every year. Last summer it was computer literacy; this summer it will be discipline--a virtue that Combs, by many accounts the hardest working man in the hip-hop business, holds dearly.
Says Souljah, “We’ll focus on getting up early, exercising, and following the rules--all that stuff.”