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John Legend Helps Kids Stay in School, Works on New Album

Andy Kropa, Getty Images

John Legend is a brain. He may be a Grammy-winning crooner with an unabashedly soulful voice, but he’s constantly educating himself, well after he donned a cap and gown and received a diploma from the University of Pennsylvania. For the Ohio native, sticking with school through the boring lessons and pestering classmates is all a part of his story, one he’s using to influence high school students around the country.

The ‘Ordinary People’ performer has joined forces with P&G and Communities in Schools (CIS) for GIVE Education, a campaign developed to help increase awareness and fight the student dropout crisis in the U.S. — according to the campaign, every nine seconds of each school day, a young person drops out of high school in the U.S.

Legend launched the movement in New York City recently and shined a spotlight on the GIVE Education brandSAVER, which will be distributed in newspapers across the country on July 31, with discounts for P&G products. P&G will donate two cents to CIS for each brandSAVER coupon redeemed, to help deliver human, financial and community resources to students and their families.

While the superstar entertainer has a schedule filled with tour dates, red carpet appearances and studio sessions, he ensures that time is dedicated to putting the children of tomorrow first. Read on as the 32-year-old piano master details his work with the program, shares memories of his peers fading away at his own high school graduation and opens up about his forthcoming album.

What was your initial reaction when P&G and Communities in Schools approached you to work with them?

Well, whenever we get involved with any kind of non-profit we wanna make sure they’re doing work that’s making an impact. So we do some research and investigate whether or not the interventions that they’re providing, the support they’re providing are producing results. Are more kids graduating as a result of their work? And yes, the answer is yes. Communities in Schools is effective. They’re really changing kids’ lives. And I don’t want to be a part of an organization that’s not doing that.

When people see you behind the brand or organization then they should realize you’re actually doing the digging into their history?

We investigate to see that they’re actually getting work done, because I read a lot about what’s going on in education. I speak to educators a lot and I’m aware that some programs work and some programs don’t. I’m aware that people are trying to do the right thing all over the country but some things are more effective than others. And so if we put our stamp of approval on something, we’re saying, “We believe that it’s effective and it’s worth donating to.”

You grew up in Ohio. Did you feel like you were witness to a lot of students around you that weren’t graduating?

I went to Springfield North High School. You know it’s funny, I didn’t realize that so many people were not graduating because I was in advanced classes. All of my classmates were graduating but when you finish, and you started with a class of 500, then you graduate with a class of 250, then you realize, “Oh a lot of these kids are dropping out.” But we don’t realize that I think, kinda like in our little bubble of being in an AP class. I realized it looking back and then once I investigated and got more involved in education reform, I looked at the statistics in our community and way too many kids drop out in my hometown. So I was more the exception than the rule. That’s unfortunate and it’s happening in a lot of communities around the country.

Have you gone back to your high school and done things to help them in much the same way you’re working with P&G and Communities in Schools?

We’ve done smaller things to help raise funds for the auditorium and things of that nature but I want to do more. I’ve done more national efforts and things here in New York; I’ve lived here for 11 years. But I certainly want to do more to give back to my hometown.

Do you think youth seeing someone like yourself, who graduated from school and has a successful career, speaking on these kinds of issues, may motivate them to continue their education?

It’s no secret you don’t have to graduate from college to be a Grammy-winning musician, but you do have to be great at what you do. And no matter what people choose to do in their career they have to realize there aren’t any shortcuts to it. So if you wanna be successful, if you wanna make a lot of money, most of the people I know that make a lot of money, they graduated from college and they work really hard. Whether it’s in music or, most of the music industry people I know that aren’t singers, are marketing executives or whatever, they graduated from college. So the path to being a successful person almost always goes through college. It’s not completely true, but it’s almost always true. So my advice to anyone [and] to anybody, if you want to be successful in life, the best way to guarantee that you can do that is to get a good education.

On the music tip, what have you been doing recently to craft your fourth studio album?

The last person I was in the studio with was J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League. We did some work on my next project. That’s for my next album, which will come out in early 2012. I was in the studio with Supa Dups recently as well. It’s too early to name song titles because we don’t know what’s going to make the album. I was with Kanye [West] in the spring a lot. We’ve done a few songs together already that I know will definitely be on the album. He’s executive producing the album. We’re working tougher very closely on it. I feel like were gonna make something that we can be proud of.

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