Aside from John Legend’s achievement of incredible fame and success in his relatively short career spanning only 13 years as a Grammy – winning R & B singer/musician – he is all about more than just the music. John Roger Stevens has a natural ability and dedication to use his fame as a means to help raise the consciousness of this planet. Although he has engaged in much philanthropy over the years, John Legend takes a hands on ’All of Me’ (pardon the pun)…type approach to getting involved in various causes, in an effort to inspire real change.
He tends to gravitate towards unique causes that have historically been skewed by stereotypes in an effort to lift the mask and reveal the real humanity in a given situation, leading to unveiling the reality of true potential unconstrained by these rigid stereotypes.
Three such examples of work that John Legend is or was recently engaged in are the following;
Part of the Axe Senior Orientation Program – ‘Redefine What it Means to be a Man’
A Ted talk entitled ‘Redemption Song’
‘With Drawn Arms’ Olympics documentary about Tommie Smith
The ‘Axe’ Senior Orientation Program is a bit of a pleasant surprise. Axe – the men’s deodorant/fragrance line is challenging what it means to be a ‘man’ with regard to the negative stereotypes involved in the definition of manliness. It is a program, in which John Legend mentors students according to a curriculum developed where male students will learn that there is ‘no way to be a man’ and to learn to ‘express a healthy range of emotions’. We don’t see this a lot. We hear and read a lot about stereotypes against women – but not nearly as much about men. Men have endured a lot of strife as well when it comes to their ‘roles’ in society and the pressures they are under to be ‘tough’ and not display ‘emotions’, etc… Pressures that are very real and not often talked about. This is very significant and cannot be ignored.
“Axe wanted to extend that idea of finding your magic not just to art but even just the idea of being a man, and encouraging young men to figure out who they are for themselves and not be constrained by traditional definitions on what it is to be a man.” – John Legend
On the flip side, Legend also addresses the topic of ‘Toxic Masculinity’ – where ‘power, dominance and bullying’ are the main aspects and how this program can change this by talking openly about it with the students …’the idea that men have to be dominant and violent and powerful to be real men can really harm people’ – Legend says.
Overall, Legend, through AXE are encouraging men to create without the ‘limitations’ of the constraints of traditional male stereotypes, and to express themselves freely as the individuals they are.
Now onto ‘Redemption Song’. John Legend did a Ted Talk where the subject of this talk was a man by the name of James Cavitt who was doing time in jail for a crime he had committed. However, this in mate wasn’t just any inmate – he took his service of time seriously to upgrade his skills and study as well as perform spoken word poetry. James is testament of the belief that ‘…our failings don’t define who we are’ (John Legend). We tend to have stereotypes of those serving time in prison. We don’t know if we can trust them when they are free – will they re-offend? Not only are there stereotypes, but often when inmates become free and attempt to reintegrate from prison, they are still battling ‘inner demons’ and are actually not free from their ‘inner prisons’(James Cavitt). James had proven those stereotypes wrong and Legend gave him the platform to showcase his efforts, ambitions and talent to the world. John Legend concluded this very impactful talk with his softly sung version of Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ done on piano.
“We’ve seen that redemption and transformation can happen in our prisons, our jail and immigration detention centres giving hope to those who want to create a better life after serving their time…Rehabilitation, love and compassion [can be used ] as core values.” – John Legend
And thirdly, a project in the works where Legend is an executive producer. This is slated to release October 2018 – a documentary on former Olympian Tommy Smith entitled ‘With Drawn Arms’. This is a piece about a former Olympian Gold Medalist Tommie Smith and Bronze Medalist John Carlos who during the 1968 Olympic Medal ceremony raised their fists in a Black Power salute, symbolizing solidarity and equality. Tragically, these men were’ suspended… stripped of their credentials, and given 48 hours to leave Olympic Village’. Their silent protest for equality was rejected publicly.
As part of the making of this documentary, Glen Kaino will have toured the U.S. hosting workshops at museums/schools teaching about Civil Rights history, what Tommie did and how to draw. Causing more awareness about these issues, again in the hopes for a better life, future and freedom.
This film is still in production. John Legend has remarked ‘‘In this current climate we are once again being charged to stand up to bigotry, fear, and hate. We are inspired by this story and honored to be a creative partner on this film.” John Legend
In closing, John Legend is an active advocate in many causes. Uniquely, he has become part of causes that work to dis-mantle dated stereotypes in the hope of revealing the creativity and potential that lie in the individuals who have been subject to them. John Legend is an awe-inspiring individual who is a refreshing shining star of change in our time!
Ted talks: Ted Talk filmed February 2016 ‘Redemption Song’
Author Bio: Alessandra Aversa
Alessandra Aversa has recently re-kindled her love and passion for writing. She is currently building up her writing profile. If you would like to contact Alessandra, her email is: firstname.lastname@example.org