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John Legend talks about poverty, education to Hopelink luncheon

John Legend told the Bellevue audience ‘When your neighbor suffers, you suffer. When they hurt, you hurt.’ - Chad Coleman, Bellevue Reporter
John Legend told the Bellevue audience ‘When your neighbor suffers, you suffer. When they hurt, you hurt.’
— image credit: Chad Coleman, Bellevue Reporter

In the hours leading up to the 15th Annual Reaching Out Luncheon for Hopelink, a soft spoken John Legend eloquently shared his passion for education reform and solving the issue of poverty in America.

The six-time grammy winner and one of Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People of 2009," Legend paid a visit to Bellevue's Meydenbauer Center earlier this week as the featured guest speaker at Hopelink's annual fundraising event.

The luncheon attracted a crowd of nearly 1,800 guests and raised more than $1 million in support of local families as they make their journey back to self-sufficiency.

Since 1971, Hopelink has been serving the Eastside community through adult literacy assistance, food bank services, housing, interpreter services, transportation, emergency financial assistance and more. The local nonprofit strives to serve an estimated 50,000 people each year.

When Legend took the stage in front of the packed banquet room, his soft spoken demeanor was transformed into a powerful persona, captivating the crowd with spirit, knowledge and a soulful truth.

"When Bellevue was just another sleepy little town outside Seattle, people reached out to their neighbors," Legend said, describing what it means to be a community. "When your neighbor suffers, you suffer. When they hurt, you hurt. And sometimes we all struggle, so you do something to support each other."

Much like Hopelink's mission to serve the less fortunate, Legend has utilized his talent and fame as a musician to launch the Show Me Campaign, a nonprofit organization that fights poverty using proven solutions.

Legend was first inspired to pursue the mission of ending the cycle of poverty following an eye-opening trip to Africa alongside Columbia University Economics Professor Jeffery Sach, author of The End of Poverty. Inspired into action, Legend created the Show Me Campaign to act as an advocate for equal access to quality education and to break the cycle of poverty in America.

"I have been trying to figure out how to help people in need for years now and I've always felt like once I got in a position where I could, I was going to try to help," he explained, prior to the luncheon. "The more I looked into it, I realized that people here in America are struggling and the best way to help, would be to provide a good education for every young person in this country. I feel like that's the best way to break the cycle of poverty."

Legend believes education is the answer.

According to the National KIDS COUNT Program, U.S. high school graduation rates have fallen from number one to number 18 in the world and one-third of American children don’t graduate from high school.

Growing up with parents who encouraged the importance of education, Legend was first home schooled and then enrolled in a public education. He still considers himself fortunate to have been one of the few to graduate from his high school class.

"I had a very good experience at public school because I was already a bit ahead of my peers academically, so I was put in some of the best classes with some of the best teachers and found amazing mentors that shaped who I am today," he said. "With that said, the high school I went to was considered a drop-out factory, because 40 percent of students who go to the school don't graduate."

Today, Legend works as an advocate for education reform through the Show Me Campaign, striving to bring to light successful organizations around the country that are doing great things on the education front.

"I was made hopeful by being introduced to schools around the country that were doing amazing work in poor communities where kids were traditionally not getting a great education. They were taking these same kids and working with them and getting dramatically improved results – putting them on the path to college and doing things that people didn't think were possible," he explained.

Legend's message of hope reaches to his most recent album, Wake Up!. Recorded in 2008, Legend teamed up with The Roots to remake 11 soulful songs of the '60s and '70s, what Legend referred to as diamonds in the rough. The album was conceived in the spirit of the Obama campaign, but according to Legend, goes deeper than any political movement.

"It's interesting because, even though this album was inspired by the campaign, we feel like it's really independent of any campaign. It's about telling people to get involved. It's about highlighting what goes on in inner cities with poverty, education and people seeking justice. These are ideas, at the core, are independent of any political campaign. The message is clearly relevant right now as you've seen these issues come up in the country over the last couple of years particularly with the recession, the frustration people feel and the tendency to blame "the other" when things aren't going well. I think the message portrayed on the Wake Up! album is even more relevant now."

Learn more about the Show Me Campaign, by visiting www.showmecampaign.org. Make a difference in your local community by reaching out to Hopelink, at www.hope-link.org, 425-869-6000.

Lindsay Larin can be reached at 425-453-4602.

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