Soon after he took the stage Friday night, musician and humanitarian John Legend gave a packed Page Auditorium the “green light.”
The audience was told it was forbidden from taking pictures, but Legend said the policy was his agent’s—not his.
“Y’all can take pictures,” a smiling Legend said, evoking thunderous applause.
The Grammy award-winning artist preceded a musical performance with a lecture on global poverty and educational disparities within the American public school system. Brought to campus in a collaborative effort between the Black Student Alliance and Duke University Union, Legend’s audience included about 130 prospective freshmen participating in the Black Student Alliance Invitational weekend, an annual recruitment event that aims to connect prospective freshman with current students and faculty.
Several times while Legend sang, audience members stood and danced—and many more danced in their seats. Legend did more than perform music, though. The artist told the audience that after being inspired by the poverty he witnessed on a trip to Africa and educational disparities in the United States, he began the Show Me Campaign with the goal of breaking the cycle of poverty abroad and reforming domestic education.
“[In 2011], the education gap should not be widening,” he said. “It should be closing to the point where it’s nonexistent. I don’t think we should put up with that in America—we should do something about it.”
Legend noted the importance of a strong educational system, linking education today with national competitiveness in the future.
“We need our generation to fight for the civil rights issue of our time—equal access to quality education,” he said.
The Show Me Campaign, which began in 2007, also offers fellowships that enable college students to work in international development in Africa, one of which Legend announced is set aside specifically for Duke students.
Although he started lecturing in 2007, he said his work and songwriting has become more political since the 2008 elections, when he noted “there was so much inspiration in the air.” Beginning in 2009, Legend collaborated with hip-hop band The Roots to begin a politically-minded album called “Wake Up!” in which the artists recorded covers of protest songs from the civil rights movement. Legend recalled the inspiration provided by musicians in the 1960s and 1970s.
“They wrote songs like ‘Wake Up Everybody’ and ‘What’s Going On’ to help provide a soundtrack for a revolution,” he said. “I was amazed at how relevant many of the lyrics were today.”
BSA President Nana Asante, a junior, said Legend was brought to Duke because he combines entertainment with an educational message that is consistent with the aims of BSA.
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“With BSA, we very much emphasize community outreach,” Asante said. “The biggest group that is marginalized in the educational system is minorities. His campaign inherently targets the minority student.”
Anjelica Saulsberry, a prospective freshman from Memphis, Tenn., was impressed by Legend’s performance.
“It’s inspirational to see someone with such influence be able to humble himself to care and make a change and inspire students here at Duke to do the same,” Saulsberry said.