October 27th, 2009
05:12 PM ET

Dealing a better hand for Darfur

Did you hear the one about the actor and the poker champ?  Actually, it's no joke: Don Cheadle and Annie Duke have raised some $2.5 million for Darfur over the last few years with celebrity poker tournaments.  Their charity, Ante Up For Africa, brings together stars from the worlds of showbiz, sports, and poker to have a lot of fun - and raise a lot of money and awareness.  Their latest event is this Thursday in California.

"People really underestimate the generosity of the poker community," says Duke, who's also raised millions for Children's Hospital Boston and other causes.  "It's filled with people who are really committed to giving back and using whatever resources they have in order to improve the world."

Cheadle, who received an Oscar nomination for "Hotel Rwanda" and saw the devastation in Darfur first-hand when he traveled there with a Congressional delegation, is serious about helping the war-torn region - and about poker.  He protested only mildly as Duke described to me how Cheadle took down superstar Phil Ivey at the 2007 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship.  And he's not the only celeb intent on the game: Casey Affleck, one of the big winners at last year's Ante Up For Africa event, is back this year, and his big brother Ben has qualified for some high-profile tournaments.

Winners at the Ante Up For Africa events generally donate most or all of their winnings to the cause, but Cheadle says the tournaments are also about building awareness: "Money is obviously extremely important; it's an effective tool to get things accomplished.  But in the end, awareness is what really matters, because we all know that the lasting solutions to these problems are actually political solutions, and you don't get political solutions without the people that are electing those governments caring about the issues."

I asked whether it wasn't an odd pairing: well-off celebs having fun around a poker table in the name of desperate people forced to flee their villages half a world away. Duke pointed out that the events encourage people to stay involved, increasing the money and awareness raised.  "Everybody wants to give, but they also want value in return for their time," she told me.  "I'm not sure anything is more effective than a poker tournament, because people come and they can genuinely hang out with celebrities and some of the famous poker players, and just have a really fanstastic time while they're giving."

Say what you like about celebs' motivations for how they use the spotlight - and I'm sure many of you will, in the comments - but it's hard to argue with results.  And Cheadle is accustomed to taking flack for using his celebrity for good causes.

"Some people look at that and are cynical about it, and think that it's just frivolous celebrities trying to give themselves some sort of gravitas sometimes," he told me.  "But I still say, even if it is that, there is still something going on over there, and we want you to look over there.  So you try and take the opportunity whenever you can."

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soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Saint Hood

    I think that is the most gallant effort. ever. I have been praying for the Sudan for years and that's just a part of my prayers being answsered. Keep up the good work.

    October 28, 2009 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Debra R

    After Africa was divided up into "countires" those doing the dividing did not or would not take into account the tribal boundries that were in place before imperialism. This is what started the situation...what continues to fuel it is religious and tribal hatred.

    Genocide is a charge levied by the world court...this would make the UN responsible for trying to end the conflict. Unfortunately, they are adding to it as they themselves have become embroiled in food scams, rape and murder. Personally i think the UN has made it worse. The US is not responsible for ending this conflict, the tribal leaders in Africa are.

    October 28, 2009 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
  3. Debra R

    What bothers me is that Africa as a nation is politically unstable in some parts. Was this thru British Imperialism and apartied? A case can be made for that in the PAST. What is going on now is mainly tribal and religious warfare. The UN has mucked up their "peacekeeping" with Rape, murder and financial scams....
    Until the region is secure again, there is no way we can be assured the $$$ is going to those who are starving and dying of disease and taken into slavery.
    Throwing $$$$ at the problem will only be a temporary fix. Somehow the warring factions must come to an understanding.

    October 28, 2009 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
  4. Tom

    That's true, there are people suffering in the states. But then again I don't think that there's anyone roaming through towns and murdering innocent people. And I'm not sure but I don't think there are millions of US refugees crossing the boarder into Canada or Mexico. I think this is a great cause and more people should follow suit and help these unfortunate people caught in this awful atrocity. Namely the US government, who won't even officially declare the situation as genocide.

    October 28, 2009 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
  5. lucy77

    To Char:
    I understand your point of view but I dare you to take a trip to Darfur and come back with a different view of the world. Watch any documentary on what is happening in Darfur and I would bet any amount of money that you would also see the right in what Mr. Cheadle is trying to do. He is someone that is using his name to do good in this world and to try to educate people around the world about the horrible horrible things that continue to happen to these people. And while we all know that the US has its own problems if all Americans turned thier backs on what is happening outside our borders than what kind of nation are we?

    October 28, 2009 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
  6. Char

    I think their efforts would be better focused right here in the United States. Have they seen the destitution here? Why are all of the stars so anxious to help Africa and not look right outside their windows and see what's going on right in front of them. We have children starving in the US. This whole thing sounds like a publicity stunt.

    October 28, 2009 at 8:10 am | Report abuse |
  7. Thurston Winbush

    Great Idea, I'll be helping in my own way as well!

    October 28, 2009 at 7:33 am | Report abuse |
  8. edgery

    No complaints from me. I think it's great that Don Cheadle continues to find ways to help the people of Darfur, and I'm glad Annie Duke understands how to bring the best out of her community.

    October 27, 2009 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. A. Smith

    Dealing a Better Deal for Darfur?

    That's a oxymoron term isn't it?

    The continent of Africa contained the richest natural resources in the entire world. Repeatedly raped by American and British corporations for several hundred years, we see the outcome of corporation deals with the African people, the genocide, famine, starvation and diseases that are left in their wake.

    How else does any educated person explain the total destruction of a enormous continent which could have made every man, woman and child currently living in Africa among the wealthiest in the world?

    That fact is not lost by the Islamic Clerics who have their faithful circling Nigeria and other regions that still have remaining Oil, Gold and Diamond deposits like vultures circling over the dead, ready to strike and claim the prize.

    And the world does what? Send medicine and band-aids?

    Start by demanding accountability by those hit and run corporations that raped and looted Africa's Natural Resources creating the single largest ongoing disaster in the entire world.

    A. Smith

    October 27, 2009 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |

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