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Entertainer John Legend Stresses Access to Education in First Amendment Week Speech

John LegendJohn Legend, a six-time Grammy-award winning recording artist, musician and actor, told more than 700 Loyola Marymount University students he considers equal access to quality education to be the civil rights issue of our time.  Legend addressed the crowd as part of the university’s First Amendment Week celebration.

“The First Amendment allows me to express myself and my opinions,” Legend said. “I’ve been blessed with an opportunity to use my voice to make an impact in the world, and I don’t want to waste that opportunity,” he said to the crowd Feb. 9 in Burns Back Court.  “There are too many people in the world that have to fight everyday for a right that we, as Americans, are born with. We can’t take that for granted.”

Legend said he has used his First Amendment rights both in his work as a recording artist and as a political activist. He has said that he wants his listeners to be more engaged and aware of what’s going on in politics. His latest album, “Wake Up,” recorded in 2010 with the hip hop band The Roots, features mostly covers of soul music of the 1960s and 1970s that addressed political and social issues. Legend said he was amazed at how relevant many of the lyrics are today, even though the country has made a lot of progress over the years.

“Still today, we’re fighting overseas under dubious premises,” Legend said at LMU. “Still today, we lack the political will to fix the environment. Still today, far too many Americans live in consistent poverty. We still live in a country where opportunities are not equal, and, unfortunately, a lot of this inequity is perpetuated in our classrooms every day.”

Legend said that public schools in America were in dire need of repair and that they’re failing to prepare youth for success. “We’re not giving kids, especially low-income and minority kids, the chance to succeed in this country. This doesn’t just affect them and their neighborhoods, it affects us all,” Legend said.John Legend 2
Legend also spoke about the “Show Me Campaign,” a project he created to combat poverty across the United States and Africa, his involvement with Teach For America, and his work helping to promote the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” which examined the American public school system  and included his song, “Shine.”

“As we discuss the First Amendment this week, we should remember that those rights are pretty useless if we don’t have the education to help you understand them and to take full advantage of them,” Legend said. “We have these First Amendment rights for a reason. Let’s continue to fight for the right to equal education.”

Legend answered a few questions from the audience and performed several of his songs.

This was the ninth annual First Amendment Week celebration at LMU, co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Loyolan student newspaper and Associated Students of LMU. Previous speakers include Seth MacFarlane, Karl Rove, Bill Maher, Arianna Huffington, Ann Coulter and James Carville.

(Photo Credit: Liana Bandziulis, Los Angeles Loyolan)