Sharing Love through Education: John Legend

Special to the PRESS

Port Isabel-South Padre PRESS

Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo

February 5, 2015

A coiffed man wearing a purple suit walked onto the stage of the University of Texas Pan American Field House on Monday, Feb 3. Around 7:40 p.m. He opened with a one-liner. “I had a little gig in Arizona last night,” John Legend said of the Super Bowl. “But I am more excited to be here, to speak to university students.”

The nine-time Grammy award winning R&B singer-songwriter addressed the crowd on an instantly personal level. “Some of you were like me. Exceptions in your neighborhoods… kids who were poor, growing up in challenging environments.”

“In my house,” said Legend, “growing up meant you were encouraged.” Areas his parents reportedly encouraged their children included art, music and church attendance. Legend said he “begged” his parents to allow him to learn piano at age four, and soon, he said his grandmother was raising him to play gospel music and to be active in church music programs.

“I barely got sleep…for music,” Legend said. “I put a lot of energy into becoming a better writer.”  But Legend explained that his rise to the top of the music scene was neither quick nor easy. From 1998, the year he graduated from college, to 2004, the artist said, “I constantly hoped my moment was just around the corner.”

Contritely, Legend was rejected by multiple record labels. “Everyone makes mistakes,” he said with a grin.

Legend made his first visit to the Rio Grande Valley just to take part in UTPA’s Distinguished Speaker program; the program invites successful, driven celebrities to motivate and educate students by sharing a cause close to their own heart.

As the audience clung to his every word, Legend – who also serves on the Board of Teach for America –went on to say, “Education is the Civil Rights of our generation.” He explained that one of his greatest passions, besides music, is “to strive to close the achievement gap.”

Next, he informed that his passion is making sure children obtain a high quality education. “Any kid can achieve great things when they go to an excellent school, and every kid deserves to go to an excellent school.”

His otherwise pleasant expression grew evermore staunch as he said, “Half doing (something) is not doing it right. You’ve got to go all in…. Read. Travel. Get your hands dirty. Allow people to love you, and love them back.”

The award-winning singer-songwriter challenged his captive audience to consider, “What would our schools look like if we were committed to love – in public?”

The 36-year-old, doe-eyed crooner boasted a most alluring smile that lit up the field house.  As he closed his speech about changing the world through love and education, he asked the audience to consider how each person can make a difference in this world, and before he sat down at a shiny black grand piano to serenade the audience of around 1,000 students and educators, he did not leave us wanting for the answer.

“Passion makes you…better. It makes the world into a better place.” He paused before suggesting that each person should, “Love yourself. Love your work. Love the people around you. And love…those people different from you… Find a cause you can support and go all in. You won’t regret finding something that’s going to make you wake up in the morning and make a difference in the world.”

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