When I saw Kalief Browder’s 2013 television interview, I wanted to meet him. He was 20 and had just come home from a more-than-thousand-day stay on Rikers. Like a lot of people I know who are disappeared by the system, Kalief seemed like the same 16-year-old he was when he went in, but he had an inner strength, an ability to stand up for himself that I deeply admired. He explained why he wouldn’t cop a plea for a crime he hadn’t committed, even if it meant facing 15 years in prison. Offered immediate release from Rikers’s notoriously grimy RNDC, after more than ten months spent in the Bing (solitary confinement), Kalief turned the prosecutor down. He didn’t think it was right to admit to something he’d never done. This weekend we learned that Kalief, who reportedly had no mental illness when he was arrested, killed himself.June 12, 2015
In the same way that singer-songwriter John Legend’s performance of “Glory” transported Oscar viewers in February, his 11th grade English teacher inspired him to believe he could write. “She unlocked the words inside me,” says Legend, who would run with that gift, going on to win nine Grammys as well as an Academy Award (shared with rapper Common for their Selma theme song). Now he’s paying it forward with LRNG (pronounced learning), an offshoot of his seven-year-old Show Me Campaign, which seeks solutions to poverty. “One of the things we think about is how schools can be used to break that cycle,” says Legend, who joined forces with the National Writing Project (NWP), an organization that has been sharing the best practices of effective teachers for 41 years.June 1, 2015
Thank you Bahrain! Thank you for inviting me and for making me feel so welcome here. I love that we’re here tonight to celebrate the Spring of Culture- to celebrate art and its power to bring us together and see each other’s humanity.
When I spoke at the Oscars last week, I quoted one of my favorite artists, American musician Nina Simone. She said that, “It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live.” So I feel that it’s part of my job to express myself freely and passionately about issues I care about. I walk in the footsteps of so many great artists who came before me who did just that.
When you look at me, you may see the international superstar John Legend, but I am also the descendant of slaves. My grandparents and even my parents were born in a country where many of our schools were legally segregated, where many people who looked like me couldn’t vote and couldn’t expect to have the opportunities for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that were supposed to be the promise of America.
But we fought for change. I wrote this song “Glory” for a film called Selma. That film depicts the epic struggle for civil rights, justice and equality led by Dr. Martin Luther King 50 years ago. We haven’t achieved all of the goals that Dr. King fought for. We still have a long way to go. But we continue to have hope and we continue to march forward. We believe that change is possible because we have seen it happen before. Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
A just society is one built not on fear or repression or vengeance or exclusion, but one built on love. Love for our families. Love for our neighbors. Love for the least among us. Love for those who look different or worship differently. Love for those we don’t even know.
We continue to fight in America to move toward this just society and we pray the same for the people of Bahrain. And for those who stand for justice, accountability, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom to organize without fear of retribution, please know that I stand with you.
The struggle may not be easy. Some have already paid the ultimate sacrifice to make this vision a reality. But I believe there is a brighter future ahead. And, one day when the glory comes, it will be ours…
Photo Credit: AP Photo / Hasan Jamali
From The Hollywood Reporter: The most valuable body movement a model needs isn’t a strong runway walk — it’s a strong handshake, says Chrissy Teigen.February 18, 2015
“The model recounted her most unconventional classroom lesson as her husband, musician John Legend, announced the launch of Reimagine Learning, an education initiative supporting teachers nationwide as they create innovative learning practices and environments that further foster individual creativity and potential, especially in those who usually fall through the cracks of traditional school systems for whatever reasons — family background, access to resources and disability among them.
‘What’s the future classroom supposed to look like? How do we make the most of all our resources — not just technology, but teachers’ creativity and students’ creativity — and provide an experience that lets kids live up to their full potential?’ Legend asked THR.”
John Legend’s Op-ed for CNN.February 15, 2015
“I grew up in a crowded house with three siblings, many passions and incredible energy. I was surrounded by loving family, including two wonderful parents who cared so much about our education.
My father often talked to us about his definition of success. He told us that it wasn’t measured in money or material things, but in love and joy and the lives you’re able to touch. Our parents took the time to teach each of us about character and what it means to live a good, passionate life.
While my siblings and I were all raised together under the same roof, I marvel at how different we can be sometimes. Four kids, four different life paths, personalities and aspirations.
I became a musician.
We all must follow a different path to let our light shine, and that’s what makes us so unpredictable and unique..”