Op-Ed: John Legend Demands Change After Eric Garner & Ferguson Decisions

Read John Legend’s Op-Ed For Billboard:

December 12, 2015

“When Common and I wrote the song ‘Glory‘ for the stunning new film Selma, we drew inspiration from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his contemporaries who strived and sacrificed to achieve racial equality in the face of seemingly hopeless odds. As I watched the final version of Selma, I did so with the backdrop of the streets of many of our major cities filled with protesters, crying out for justice after yet another unarmed black person’s life was taken by the police with impunity. After the events of the past few weeks, in Ferguson, Mo.; Staten Island; Phoenix; and Cleveland, things feel eerily the same. While it is important to recognize and acknowledge racial progress through the years, it is also clear that we are far from King’s dream of equality and justice for all…”

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Obama bans the box

November 2, 2015

President Obama on Monday announced a new order to reduce potential discrimination against former convicts in the hiring process for federal government employees.

It is a step towards what many criminal justice reformers call “ban the box” – the effort to eliminate requirements that job applicants check a box on their applications if they have a criminal record.

While the rule was once seen as a common sense way for employers to screen for criminal backgrounds, it has been increasingly criticized as a hurdle that fosters employment discrimination against former inmates, regardless of the severity of their offense or how long ago it occurred. Banning the box delays when employers learn of an applicant’s record.

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John Legend: We Must Help Former Prisoners Get Jobs

October 12, 2015

The U.S. is the most incarcerated country in the world. The past 40 years of criminal justice policy have yielded crowded prisons and broken lives. The sentences have gotten longer and harsher, and too often we’ve chosen criminalization and incarceration over investment in our communities and human development. As a result of these policies, nearly 1 in 3 Americans have a criminal record that shows up on a routine background check.

Workers remain the backbone of our nation, but for the about 70 million Americans with a criminal record, finding employment can be especially difficult. These individuals are required to check a box that immediately disqualifies them from consideration, before even an interview or a background check, permanently shutting them out of the workforce. The “Ban the Box” campaign, led in large part by formerly incarcerated people and their families, aims to give people with criminal records a fair shot at a second chance.

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Learning Without Limits: John Legend’s Sound Investment

September 24, 2015

John Legend knows the value of a great education.

“I was from a pretty small blue-collar town in Ohio, and it if it weren’t for great teachers and counselors and people who really cared about me at my school, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today,” says Legend, who calls education “my connection to the world.”

Creativity in the classroom

Now the nine-time Grammy Award winner, who also has an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, the BET Award for Best New Artist and the special Starlight Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame, is working to inspire teachers and students to be creative inside and outside the classroom.

“I always enjoyed the teachers the most that had interesting projects for us: things that connected the curriculum to our life experience; things that inspired our creativity; things that allowed us to be individuals and not just memorize things,” says Legend, who liked math, history and social studies as a student and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied English and African-American literature.

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John Legend: Mass Incarceration Is Destroying America

This past Thursday, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison; just a few days earlier, he commuted the sentences of 46 low-level drug offenders. Both are steps forward in transforming our wrong-headed criminal justice system, but they are just that: steps. Our state and local governments must follow the president’s lead and transform our destructive “War on Drugs” into the public-health campaign it always should have been.

America, as more and more people are starting to realize, is indecently over-incarcerated. We lock up far more people per capita than any nation even close to our size: roughly 2.4 million men, women, and children. The financial toll of mass incarceration is irresponsible; the human toll is unconscionable.

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