Forest Whitaker Uses His Star Power to Fight for Civil Rights in Uganda

02/28/2014 at 09:45 AM EST

Forest Whitaker Uses His Star Power to Fight for Civil Rights in Uganda
Forest Whitaker
Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic
He's a world-class actor and film star. But Forest Whitaker says he finds great inspiration in giving back, leading his own foundation as he works to empower youth around the world.

"We're just working on creating peace-builders who turn into community-builders," Whittaker, 52, told PEOPLE of his foundation's message as he was honored Tuesday at the Icon Mann 2nd Annual Power 50 Pre-Oscar Dinner at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.

His philanthropy, the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative, which he calls his "passion," includes keeping an office in northern Uganda, where an ongoing civil war and strife over gay rights have led to many deaths across the African nation.

Whitaker recognizes the struggles there and says he stands in solidarity with those caught up in the violence.



"It's been a big issue across the continent. It's certainly there," the Academy Award winner and father of four says of the ongoing attacks on gays. "People are making protest and people are going in and discussing it. I have my kids, the youth I'm teaching there … We're all about inclusion and recognizing our connection to everyone."

Whitaker, who serves as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, shared plans to attend Saturday's Film Independent Spirit Awards to celebrate his star role in Lee Daniels' The Butler, which earned him a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination. The critically acclaimed film earned no Oscar nods, so Whitaker plans to sit that ceremony out on Sunday.

"I'm not doing anything, actually," he says of his Oscar night plans. "I'm going to try to relax … to download and chill."

Reporting by MATTHEW COLE WEISS

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