Making a Difference: Grammy Winner John Legend Helps Keep Kids in School

john legend performance GIVE EducationMusician John Legend might be known best as a force to be reckoned with in the music industry or for his mind-boggling number of Grammy Awards. But shortly after starting The Show Me Campaign, a nonprofit organization that fights poverty, he also became an active, vocal proponent of education reform.

His most recent endeavor as the spokesperson for Communities In Schools is called the GIVE Education campaign. Its goal is to increase awareness of the student dropout crisis in the U.S. and raise funds to help keep millions of students in school.

Legend spoke out about the campaign in New York this week, and we caught up with him there to find out more about the difference he's making through his work with Communities In Schools and other education reform organizations.


How long have you been working on education reform?

Just the last couple of years, it's been a focus. We started The Show Me Campaign in 2007, and the main focus was on reducing poverty. We started overseas in Africa, and as our first initiative, we adopted a Millennium Village over there. One of the aspects of our work was building schools and making sure we had teachers in the schools in the communities there. But we also realized there was an education crisis here in America; too many kids were dropping out of school, too many schools aren't doing the best they can for our students. Particularly in our poor communities, growing up in those communities and going to the schools there has often almost guaranteed that kids weren't going to go on to college and be successful in life. Because we know that we can do better, because we've seen examples of us being able to do better, we've decided that we want to be part of the solution -- making sure there are more schools and more organizations that are doing the right thing by kids, and really addressing this crisis that we have.     

What drew you to the GIVE Education campaign?

Well, first of all, Procter and Gamble (P&G) is such a household name, literally and figuratively, because they have so many products that are used in everyday life, and they have so much reach through the advertising and impact that they have in homes all around the country. I knew that they were going to do something meaningful and big. And then, the partner they chose to work with is a wonderful national organization, Communities In Schools (CIS). They impact the lives of millions of kids, making sure they don't drop out of school, knowing that the dropout crisis is something that's real. That's really a serious issue we need to deal with, and knowing that CIS is out there making a difference, making a real impact, it just made perfect sense for me to join forces with P&G and CIS.

Can you tell us about a particular experience you've had so far "on the ground" with CIS?

We've worked with some of the students they've worked with, and we've spoken to some of the leaders at CIS, some of the site coordinators, and they're providing some support to the schools and to the teachers, to supplement what they're able to do. When kids grow up in a challenged community, a tough neighborhood, possibly a broken home, they need more to make a difference. They need great teachers, they need high expectations, but they also need a support network -- sometimes it's health care, sometimes it's just knowing what other resources they have in their community, sometimes it's tutoring or mentoring. We just need a higher touch intervention for kids who are at risk, and that's what CIS is doing.

Was there a particular student or teacher you've met along the way whose story resonated with you?

I meet wonderful people all over the country. I work with the Harlem Village Academies. They do amazing work. I work with Deborah Kenny there, who is the founder of the schools, and has hired an amazing team of people who are changing the trajectory for these kids, kids who otherwise would have been 50 percent likely to drop out of school. They're making sure all their kids go on to college. When you see those kinds of statistics and those kinds of turnarounds in people's lives, then you know that we can do better. We have the possibility of really changing people's lives, making a real difference, and give them the opportunity to really experience the American dream. Once you see that, you don't accept less than that, and that's my outlook.      

One more really important question: What's your favorite dessert?

Anything with chocolate and peanut butter -- that's my favorite combination! 

Check out this great performance of the song "Shine" by John Legend and the Chorus Club from M.S. 390 in the Bronx from the campaign launch.

If you'd like to help GIVE Education, you can do so in a couple of ways. You can pick up the GIVE Education brandSAVER (featuring a note from John Legend) in newspapers nationwide on Sunday, July 31. For every coupon redeemed, P&G will donate two cents to Communities In Schools. The donation will go toward resources to students and their families, like tutoring, mentoring, counseling, health services, food bank access, college visits, and more. You can also watch the video on P&G myGIVE's Facebook page featuring John Legend and Communities In Schools students, and for every view, P&G will make an additional 25-cent donation (up to $10,000). 


Image via Diane Bondareff/AP Images for P&G

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