John Legend’s ‘Show Me Campaign’ Earns BET Humanitarian Award
John Legend will be honored with the Humanitarian Award at the BET Awards on June 27, after three successful years of work with his Show Me Campaign. The non-profit organization has mobilized efforts in Africa and the U.S. to battle poverty through education reform, and the six-time Grammy winner tells The BoomBox that he is happy to spread the message.
"I'm really honored to get this from BET, they've been very supportive of me over the years," Legend said. "I don't do it to receive awards, but it's nice that what I'm doing is able to provide the inspiration to other people to hopefully do something as well. And I have to give credit to all of the people that do so much great work with me, it's really in large part a credit to them."
The Show Me Campaign, founded in 2007, was the result of Legend's research on the global movement to end poverty. "I had been reading a lot about poverty and how it affects hundreds of millions of people around the world and it just made me want to do something," he said. "One of the books I read that was very influential was called 'The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time' by Jeffrey Sachs, a professor at Columbia and the founder of Millennium Promise and The Earth Institute at Columbia."
"The book was really powerful because it talked about what could actually be done to solve the issue of poverty. It showed that they were getting real results and moving people forward around the world. When I saw that, it made me want to ask questions, it made me want to get involved, until I reached out to Jeffrey Sachs, met with him and got excited about the work that he was doing."
Legend joined Jeffrey Sachs on an excursion to Africa, where he got a first-hand glimpse of Millennium Promise's progress. "We traveled to Ghana to visit one of the Millennium Villages they work with, and also to Tanzania, and it made me want to get involved, tell my fans about it and try to help raise money and raise awareness for the efforts," Legend said, explaining the decision to launch his non-profit organization. "I started the Show Me Campaign, as a part of the fight to end global poverty. And we're doing it by adopting a village in Tanzania, through the Millennium Villages program, and we also do it here in the States by fighting for education reform, because we believe that's the biggest failure to closing the poverty gap in America."
To keep the organization running efficiently, Legend says that he relies on his well-trained staff and the solid partnerships they've built. "I'm very hands on and I make sure we have excellent professionals who have a lot of experience in philanthropy, fundraising and running a non-profit," he said. "We want to make sure our books are on point, we want to make sure we have the right strategies, and that we're implementing them in the way right ways and with the right partners."
Legend admits that partnering with Jeffrey Sachs' Millennium Promise organization has been key in the success of the Show Me Campaign. "Millennium Promise is a great partner because they've got a lot of expertise working with developing countries," he said. "We don't try to reinvent the wheel, we try to work with people that are already doing exceptional things, by raising awareness and raising money, to aid them. And I think that's part of the reason why we've been successful to this point, because of the strength of our partners."
Raising awareness and raising funds for a non-profit organization is half of the battle, but this is where the singer/songwriter finds benefit in his star power. "We raise money on tours, we ask the fans to donate via text message and we take a dollar from their tickets and give it to the Show Me Campaign," Legend explained. "We also ask for money from large donors, by doing events where people can pay a nice price to spend some time golfing with me etc. All you have to do is demonstrate that what you're is doing is effective and addresses a real need because there are a lot of people out there that want to give to the right thing."
In the coming year, the Show Me Campaign will attempt to expand their work in Africa, while continuing to push for education reform in the U.S. "The key is to raise money to support the village in Tanzania and we hope to expand to supporting another village in Africa," Legend said. "Then we'll continue to work here in the States, on the board of important educational organizations. We're very involved in the conversation about education reform and we hope to engage a lot more American citizens in that conversation as the next year or two plays on."
The singer/songwriter -- and now philanthropist -- stressed that reforming the public school system will remain the organization's primary focus Stateside "I'm a big advocate of making sure that we have a strong public school system," he explained. "I'm all for kids getting a good education however they can -- if homeschooling works for some, that's fine -- but I think the first line of defense should be making sure we have excellent schools for children to attend all over the country."
The BET Awards will air on Sunday, June 27 at 8PM.