Today, celebrities are tweeting about social justice and equality but few can be seen doing something about it. Late-night TV show host and comedian Trevor Noah received the inaugural Catalyst Award from the Elevate Prize Foundation for his humanitarian efforts.
The Miami-based foundation’s newest award highlights celebrities who use their platforms to effect cultural change and inspire their followers to take action. Noah, who has hosted The Daily Show since 2015, has notably used the night show to speak on topics from depression, an illness he has openly struggled with, to race and racism.
“I know what it’s like to live in a country that’s extremely divided by race,” Noah tells The Hollywood Reporter, “And we joke about it not to minimize it but to try and heal the wounds. Where there’s no conflict, pain, or tragedy, I don’t know what to do. I’m a horribly superfluous comic. If anything, I’m only trained to do this.”
Since the pandemic, Noah has asked his viewers and social media followers to help raise funds for pandemic relief while also amplifying the stories about racial protests over police brutality in the U.S. Noah was born during the apartheid to a Black South African mother and a White Swiss-German father during a time where having biracial children was considered a crime. The comedian’s upbringing has made him more likely to speak out on matters he believes are important.
Unlike other entertainers afraid of losing fan bases or endorsements, Noah has fully embraced his voice. “I came to realize the show during this time has no rules. The show will be what it needs to be,” he tells The Los Angeles Times, “We’re trying to create as much as we can with what we have and we’re also trying to create a show that’s as honest as it can be.”
Noah’s award comes with a $250,000 prize that the humanitarian will use for the Trevor Noah Foundation, a nonprofit that improves educational opportunities for youth in South Africa. Only two years old, Noah was delighted the nonprofit has already begun to receive recognition for its efforts.
“I am honored to be receiving the inaugural Catalyst Award from the Elevate Prize Foundation. Their commitment to social good is something I admire and strive for every day, both in my personal life and for my foundation,” he said. “I am excited about our partnership and hope we can continue their mission to ‘make good famous’ together.”
To date, the Trevor Noah Foundation has served more than 6,000 learners and 500 educators through its Khulani Schools Programs. Last year, in partnership with the Young African Leaders Initiative and the University of South Africa, the foundation’s Education Changemakers program graduated their first cohort of 50 educational changemakers that represented some 13 African countries.
Although the comedian never misses an opportunity to call out human failure, his work with the foundation makes him optimistic about people’s ability to come together and create change.
“I firmly believe that humanity is good at its core and that the more we amplify important issues and underrepresented stories the greater chance we have to drive necessary change, especially in the little worlds that we all live in that can affect the world,” Noah said in a videotaped remark as he accepted the Catalyst award.
Rae Onwumelu is a correspondent for Marcom Weekly. Onwumelu's writing and reporting have appeared in The Huffington Post, Blavity and CityBeat. She previously served as a feature writer for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and content specialist for The Educational Theatre Association.