Ordinary people doing extraordinary things: John Legend speaks to campus
Yentumito, along with fellow high school senior Chantel Hardy, won a $500 scholarship from the Association of Black Students (ABS) to pay for future college textbooks.
In addition to wowing the crowd with his performance at the end of the discussion, John Legend inspired audience members to use their education to rally behind the issues they care about.
ABS brought the musician/activist to the University as a part of the MLK week symposium. The presentation, which took place in Graham Chapel, featured a speech followed by a 30-minute performance of his hit songs, including “Ordinary People,” “Save Room” and “Green Light.”
Legend’s speech focused on education reform.
“I don’t know about you, but I was an exception in my neighborhood. Most of my classmates in high school didn’t even make it to graduation,” he said. “I remember standing at the podium addressing my fellow classmen and realizing the graduating class was about half the size it was at freshman orientation.”
Legend graduated from his high school in Springfield, Oh. before attending the University of Pennsylvania.
“It should not be a Herculean effort to graduate high school,” he said.
Legend is the founder of the Show Me Campaign, which seeks to break the cycle of poverty by providing equal access to quality education in the United States and Africa.
Using his own work as an example, he urged students to use their educations to their advantage and stand up for issues they care about.
“One of the great things about education is that it gives you control over your own [life],” he said. “There are a lot of good causes out there, and a shortage of people to take them on.”
He encouraged students to work for nonprofit organizations over the summer and mentioned that if they did, they could apply for a stipend from the Show Me Campaign.
Legend also discussed activism in terms of exercising the right to vote. He explained the country’s history of voter disenfranchisement and went on to discuss controversial voter identification laws currently being discussed in state legislatures.
“It’s hard enough for ordinary people’s voices to be heard above the influence of big money, and these laws are making it harder,” he said. “We can’t have a government for the people, by the people, if not all people can exercise their fundamental rights to vote.”
Freshman Cristina Clow said she felt more informed following Legend’s speech.
“I think it increased my awareness of educational issues I didn’t experience in my own life that are definitely present in the St. Louis community,” Clow said.
The issues of education and civil rights—and their global counterparts—push Legend to action. Beyond his status as a singer and performer, Legend acts as an advocate for the ordinary people whose voices so often fail to reach those in power. His politics are a huge part of his life, and were a major aspect of his speech.
“I’m sorry if I got a little too political for your taste. Whenever I tweet about politics, someone will tell me to ‘shut up and just sing,’” he said. “But as you probably figured out by now, I’m here to tell the truth as I see it.”