The Education Gap: How do we pull up young Black men?

John Legend, is an American soul singer, songwriter, and pianist. He has won six Grammy Awards.  Born John Stephens, Legend was a child prodigy who grew up in Ohio, where he began singing gospel and playing piano at the tender age of five. Legend left Ohio at 16 to attend college in Philadelphia, and it was there that he first found a larger audience. Not yet out of his teens, Legend was tapped to play piano on Lauryn Hill's "Everything Is Everything" in 1998.

After completing college, he moved to New York, where he began to build a loyal following playing in nightclubs and releasing CDs that he would sell at shows. He also became an in-demand session musician, playing and occasionally writing for a wide array of artists, including Alicia Keys, Twista, Janet Jackson, and Kanye West.

It wasn't until West signed the young talent to his new label that he adopted the Legend name with 2004's Solo Sessions Vol. 1: Live at the Knitting Factory. Get Lifted, his first studio album, was released later in the year. On the strength of enduring single "Ordinary People," the album reached the Top Five of the Billboard 200. This led to three Grammy Awards: Best R&B Album, Best R&B Male Vocal Performance, and Best New Artist. Once Again, which peaked at number three on the Billboard 200 and number one on the R&B/hip-hop Albums chart, followed in October 2006. Live from Philadelphia, sold exclusively at Target stores, was a successful stopgap release that predated October 2008's Evolver.

  • Transcript


John Legend: First of all, America needs to believe that everyone deserves a first rate education.

Even if we say we believe that, we haven’t put our money where our mouth is. We have drastic funding inequities in certain areas where a poor school district gets the shorter end of the stick when it comes to education funding and resources.

We don’t pay teachers enough in general. We don’t treat teachers as though they’re an important profession.

There are any number of reasons why education is poor in America. And part of it, I think, is a result of some parents not putting enough emphasis on education in their own home.

I grew up in a family where education was hyper-important, but I think there are a lot of families that don’t stress it as much as they should. And so I think part of the responsibility lies with the parents.

But overall, as a society, we have made education too much of a free market system where, if you have money, if you have resources, your kids are going to get a good education. And if you don’t, then they probably won’t. And as long as that’s the case, then there can’t be equality of opportunity because certain kids are just not going to have the opportunities that they should in order to even out the playing field for them to maximize their potential.

There are so many factors I think that play into it. In the Black community, especially with Black men, there’s a certain level of despair, a nihilism that they don’t have the belief that education is going to pay off for them. And I think there’s enough of that that encourages them to find other ways to make money. And crime often ends up being one of those ways. And because they don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel; because they don’t have the optimism to believe that they can do something legitimately and legally and be successful, then they resort to other means. And the drug trade and all these things that certain young men get caught up in, a lot of it is a result of unemployment, despair, and just a lack of optimism in their communities.

And I think education will go a long way toward helping address that, but there’s a myriad number of cultural issues that we have to deal with as well. And part of it just starts in the families stressing education; stressing the importance of having parents and extended family that support and care for the family, and care for our young people. And all those things are important.

Recorded on: Jan 29, 2008