Billionaire Jeff Bezos announced Tuesday he’s shelling out a massive amount of his own cash to two men: the controversial CNN contributor Van Jones and celebrity chef José Andrés, each of them getting $100 million to direct to the charities of their choice.
In a surprise at the end of a media conference following his successful trip to sub-orbital space, the Amazon and Blue Origin founder unveiled his new “Courage and Civility Award,” which he said “recognizes leaders who aim high and who pursue solutions with courage and who always do so with civility.” Recipients receive $100 million to give away to charities or non-profits of their choice, and Bezos said awardees may direct all the funds to their own non-profits or “spread the wealth” to other organizations.
The move came minutes after his backlash-drawing comments that he wanted “to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all this. So seriously, for every Amazon customer out there, and every Amazon employee, thank you from the bottom of my heart, very much.” Some hit back at him on Twitter, demanding a “refund.”
Jones has been an especially divisive public figure. The left-wing CNN commentator once dubbed himself a “communist” and previously called former President Donald Trump’s election a “‘White-lash.’ This was a ‘White-lash’ against a changing country. It was a ‘White-lash’ against a Black president, in part.” In another segment, he took aim at the National Rifle Association, essentially linking it to the Ku Klux Klan: “You have a whole generation of young people who essentially see the NRA as their enemy. To them, the NRA is like the KKK.”
At his announcement, Bezos called Jones on stage, honoring the criminal justice reform advocate and Dream Corps founder as the first awardee.
“Sometimes dreams come true,” Jones said as he addressed the crowd in an emotional acceptance speech.
He added, “If this small group of people can make miracles happen in outer space, a bigger group of people can make miracles happen down here, and we’re going to do it.”
“I know that Van Jones is going to do something amazing with that $100 million,” Bezos said. “I don’t know what yet, he doesn’t know what yet, but it’s in your hands.”
The second awardee was celebrity chef José Andrés, who founded World Central Kitchen, a non-profit that provides food to victims in the wake of natural disasters. Andrés made headlines in 2020 for his charity’s initiatives feeding hungry people in need in several places in the U.S. as the pandemic raged.
“A plate of food is a plate of hope,” Andrés said in his acceptance speech after expressing his gratitude to Bezos. “It is the fastest way to rebuild life and communities, and this award itself cannot feed the world on its own.”
“But,” he added, “this is the start of a new chapter for us, and allows us to think beyond the next hurricane to the bigger challenges we face.”