The singer and songwriter has helped 150 women victimized by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans to pick up the pieces of their lives.
In recent years, she has undertaken a wide range of civic and community work that has centered on providing opportunities for youth in Southern California and empowering women in New Orleans whose lives were devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
She has established the Chaka Khan Foundation, which has two major initiatives. One is to provide tutorial services for elementary school students in Los Angeles. The other program provides support and opportunities for women who were left homeless and demoralized in the aftermath of Katrina in 2005.
But Khan and her foundation are getting a good deal of attention and high marks for the New Orleans initiative, which started in 2011, when Khan traveled there to sing at the Essence Music Festival.
“I started talking with women who worked in the hotel, asking if they had been affected by Katrina,” Khan said in an interview with BET.com. “They told me how deeply they were affected and it blew my mind. Some of the women were living in their cars. Some had lost their entire families in one day. They were suffering from the same traumatic syndrome that soldiers do.”
As a result of that experience, she partnered with the Institute of Women & Ethnic Studies, a nonprofit community-based organization, as well as the leaders of the Essence Music Festival. Together, they have established a program to provide guidance and support to 150 women.
The Superlife Transformation Program, as the initiative is called, provides support for career planning, health and education. It included a graduation ceremony earlier this year at the Essence Festival. It has assisted the women in starting businesses, in purchasing homes and in pursuing their educational goals.
She said it has been important to her to return periodically to New Orleans to confer with the women and witness their development.
“I can’t just come down there and sing and leave,” she said. “I come and check on them. The last time I went there, I didn’t recognize these women. They were closing on homes, starting businesses and making their dreams come true.”
The long-term plan, she said, is to empower the women to act as mentors to a new group of women sponsored by Khan’s foundation.
She said there is much more that she would like to do through the foundation, which has obtained tax-deductible status for contributors and has hired professional staff.
She said she would like to have a service to help provide jobs for inner-city youth in Los Angeles as well as making lawyers available to young people who have been arrested.
“I have always been a giver, trying to help people,” she said. “But it has never been on this kind of scale. There is a lot more I would like to do.”
Khan, who has been singing professionally for nearly 40 years, said that her foundation work is a therapeutic journey away from the world of arts and entertainment.
“I’m just happy to still be in the mix,” she said. “There are so many people in this business who have had an early demise or just couldn’t handle it. It’s a tough business. It’s no walk in the park. But what I’ve found is that a little love goes a long, long way.”
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(Photo: Mark Davis/Getty Images For BET)