By Erica Sabino
Rosario Dawson is more than just another famous face in Hollywood. In addition to her high-profile film career, she’s a philanthropist, activist, and entrepreneur. Not to mention producer, singer and comic book writer!
First and foremost, Dawson is fiercely passionate about her philanthropy and her desire to serve her community. Her early life wasn’t easy. Her family lived in a squatter’s apartment in New York’s East Village, where she grew up seeing poverty, sickness, and suffering all around her. “Growing up here in New York, with a mom who was a teenager when she had me, I had family and friends who were either trans and/or had HIV or AIDS and/or had drug problems or housing issues or issues with access to education,” Dawson said in an interview with the lifestyle website mindbodygreen. “I saw the whole maelstrom of privilege and access.”
Growing up in a liberal-minded family, she was raised to understand the value of social change at a young age. “My mother worked for a women’s shelter when I was young,” she said. “To see strangers helping other strangers, just showing up and giving, was so inspiring to me.” It’s not hard to see how her experiences have inspired her to make a change for others. She serves as a board member of V-day, a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls. She supports charities like the ONE Campaign, Amnesty International, Oxfam, International Rescue, and Lower East Side Girls Club, and the Environmental Media Association, among many others. She is also active in such programs as Conservation International, Doctors Without Borders, National Geographic Society, The Nature Conservancy and Save The Children.
In 2013, Dawson partnered with her longtime friend Abrima Erwiah to found Studio 189, a fashion and media brand based in Ghana that produces African and African-inspired clothing and lifestyle content. In an interview with Google, when asked about their decision to launch in Ghana, Dawson and Erwiah had this to say: “We were impressed by the culture of creativity, craft, and innovation and the rich history present in Ghana. We felt it was a wonderful place to develop social infrastructure, to add value to natural resources, to create opportunities for work and support capacity building. At the same time, we wanted to support the growth of a local market of consumers as well and help create a space for more people to enter conversations and be included in the growth of the global fashion industry.” For these two partners, Studio 189 is not just a business, but also a social enterprise. Through their brand, they have been able to make changes in the community through educational workshops, counseling, and employment.
Politically active for much of her life, Dawson says, “The American future is here, and there’s great news: the future votes.” She co-founded the pioneering civic media nonprofit organization, Voto Latino, in an effort to boost Latino participation in the political process. Established in 2004, Voto Latino’s mission is to provide culturally relevant programs that engage, educate, and empower Latinos to be agents of change. It also seeks to transform America by recognizing Latinos’ innate leadership. Whenever we do voter registration, we ask, ‘Why haven’t you voted before?’ The response is often, ‘No one’s asked us.’ It’s not about telling people what to do—it’s about sharing what they can do.
“Voting is the umbrella to everything else that I’m doing,” says Rosario. “Women’s issues, health and disease, poverty, housing—these all fall under that voting power.” In recognition for her efforts, she was awarded the President’s Volunteer Service Award in 2017.
Also a health advocate, Dawson, a self-proclaimed oat enthusiast, recently partnered with Quaker Oats to create a three-part video series that encourages people to incorporate healthier practices into their everyday lives. “I’ve been eating Quaker oatmeal since I was a young child, ever since my aunt taught me how to make it from scratch, so I’m excited to team up with them to help spread the word about the benefits of oats,” Dawson said. “As an advocate for health and wellness, I never want to short-term my health—I think it’s so important to have long-term plans. And what’s great is that you don’t have to start big, because even small steps can make a difference.”
Dawson’s first step on her journey to fame happened by accident when she was just 15 years old. Sitting on the front porch step of her apartment building, she was spotted by photographers Larry Clark and Harmony Korine. Aspiring screenwriter Korine thought Dawson would be perfect to cast in the 1995 film, Kids, where she played Ruby, a sexually active adolescent. From there, Dawson went on to star in more films, like Rent, He Got Game, Men in Black II, Seven Pounds, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, and Sin City, among many others. In the music industry, she had a speaking part in the re-release of Prince’s 1980s hit, “1999,” renamed “1999: The New Master.” She also appeared in the music video for Out of Control by The Chemical Brothers and was featured on the Outkast track, She Lives in My Lap.
Currently, Dawson is set to voice the iconic heroine Diana Prince in the DC animated original film, Wonder Woman: Bloodlines, a character she’s voiced since 2015’s Justice League: The Throne of Atlantis. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the actress has also been cast in Sony Pictures’ next installment of the post-apocalyptic comedy, Zombieland 2. She will be working alongside original cast members including Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg, and Abigail Breslin, as well as newcomers Zoey Deutch and Avan Jogia. In addition to these roles, Dawson will both produce and star in the upcoming drama series Briarpatch from Sam Esmail, the creator of Mr. Robot. Based on the Ross Thomas novel, the first season of the series will be produced by Universal Cable Productions and Paramount Television. In this drama, Dawson will be playing a Washington, D.C.-based investigator who returns to her hometown in Texas to help search for her sister’s murderer.
Last year, she announced her guest collaboration on La Borinqueña, an original character and patriotic symbol presented in a classic superhero story created and written by graphic novelist Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez. Her powers are drawn from history and mysticism found on the island of Puerto Rico. Dawson and her writing partner David Atchison joined Dawson’s uncle, comic book artist Gustavo Vazquez on the project.
Although she has a full workload, she still finds time to make an impact outside the world of Hollywood. From being a political activist to running a sustainable fashion line, Rosario Dawson is continuously showing her passion and commitment to the causes she advocates for.
Using her platform to make a difference, Dawson’s activism has allowed her to not only witness change but also effect it. “I’m really moved by everything I’ve seen achieved over the years, and there’s so much that’s being worked toward now with many more people,” Dawson says in an interview with InStyle. “I’m inspired to just do whatever I feel called to do and to be of service and to be of use… There are so many different ways that we can serve, and I want to figure out as many ways as I can to fit into this lifetime.”