Kal Penn Raised Half A Million For Syrian Refugees After Someone Said He Doesn't Belong In This Country

"We will turn their bigotry, along with the President's, into love."

This past weekend, as furor over President Trump's "Muslim ban" reached a fever pitch, thousands descended on the closest international airports in protest. Trump's haphazard executive order suspending the refugee program and banning people from seven predominantly-Muslim countries caused confusion across the world. U.S. permanent residents were denied entry into the country and refugees who were vetted for months were barred from boarding their planes to the U.S. or detained at American airports. 

As demonstrations spilled out onto the streets, the wave of bigotry that propelled Trump to the White House continued to rear its ugly head on the internet. On Saturday, a social media user told Harold and Kumar actor Kal Penn "you don't belong in this country you fucking joke." Penn, a high profile minority who was a former associate director in Obama's White House Office of Public Engagement, is likely no stranger to racism. But this time, he harnessed that unprovoked hatred and transformed it into a force of good, using it to fundraise more than $500,000 in donations for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), an refugee aid organization. 

Penn launched the effort with a tweet that read, "To the dude who said I don't belong in America, I started a fundraising page for Syrian Refugees in your name." He attached a screenshot of the person's comment but blurred their username. 



Kal Penn / Twitter
Kal Penn / Twitter

"We are better than the hateful people who tell us we don't belong in our own country, that America can't be a beacon of freedom and hope for refugees from around the world," Penn wrote on the fundraising page. "We will turn their bigotry, along with the President's, into love."

Within an hour of launching the page, Penn tweeted that $10,000 had been raised. 

Kal Penn / Twitter
Kal Penn / Twitter

Penn had to raise the goal multiple times as that number kept ballooning. In 24 hours, the fund reached $250,000. The next day, people had donated more than half a million dollars to the IRC under names like "Kellyanne Conway," "alternative facts," and "I still believe in America." 

Kal Penn / Twitter
Kal Penn / Twitter

In an interview with CNN on Monday about his fundraising efforts for Syrian refugees, Penn was asked about the torrent of criticism about the Muslim ban from actors at Sunday's SAG Awards. Trump has repeatedly railed against Hollywood celebrities, and his supporters echo the sentiment that they should not get involved in politics. 

Penn, however, noted that Trump himself is a celebrity and defended Hollywood's right to publicly criticize the president. "I think everybody should speak out," he said. "It's an opportunity for everybody, whether you're a celebrity or not, frankly, to raise your voice and make sure we don't stand for what's happening in our names right now."

Cover image via s_bukley / Shutterstock.

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