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Social justice — and John Legend — in the spotlight at ASU + GSV Summit

Singer-activist and a panel of experts focus on what our communities must do to cultivate talent in all groups

John legend
April 17, 2018

Editor's note: Read more of the highlights from the ASU + GSV Summit on our blog.

The theme of the ASU + GSV Summit Tuesday evening keynote was, resoundingly, social justice.

The event began with the recognition of the 2018 Innovator of Color Award winners: Jaime Casap, education evangelist at Google, and Phyllis Lockett, the CEO of LEAP Innovations. Henry Hipps, deputy director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, presented the awards to the two innovators, who were recognized for their efforts to support equitable educational outcomes for all students.

The keynote speaker was award-winning singer, songwriter and activist John Legend, who shared the personal hardships that defined his youth and recounted the influential teachers, counselors and school staff whose interest and care turned his life around.

Experiencing the positive influence that one person can have on a child’s life inspired him to create the Show Me Campaign, a nonprofit foundation that works to break the cycle of poverty through education. Along with elevating and celebrating teachers, the Show Me Campaign works to end the school-to-prison pipeline and address systemic issues in the criminal justice system that disproportionately impact the poor, minorities and disadvantaged.

“It’s a commitment to the idea that everyone has something precious to give to this world," Legend said. "This is an expression of love for all people on the planet. I believe in the power of love to bring us closer to justice.”

According to Legend, 60 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals remain unemployed one year after their release. To address this concern, Legend created Free America, a multi-year campaign to change the national conversation about the country's policies and transform America's criminal justice system. The organization recently launched a program called Unlocked Futures to support entrepreneurs who have been impacted by the criminal justice system.

“Dr. Cornel West says that justice is what love looks like in public," Legend said. "What would our schools look like if we were committed to loving in public?

"We would recognize that no child is born wanting to commit crimes, and we would do everything we could do to make sure they lived in safe neighborhoods with excellent teachers and good, nutritious food to eat. And we would not criminalize them for minor behavioral problems in schools.”

Following Legend’s keynote address, a panel of experts discussed the importance of social justice to the future of talent. The conversation was led by James Shelton, president for education of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and former undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Education, and featured panelists:

Anurima Bhargava — CEO, Anthem Of Us and former chief of the educational opportunities section of the civil rights division at the U.S. Department of Justice: 

“I’m trying to figure out how we actually change the paradigm to not be one where we’re hiring lawyers instead of hiring people who can prevent, treat and counsel on the front end.”

Topeka K. Sam — founder and executive director, The Ladies of Hope Ministries:

“We need to look at the population and say, the same things that are helping the children have access to education and opportunity are the same things that are going to help people that are incarcerated. And how do we give people those opportunities and resources so that when they come home they can thrive.”

Connie Yowell — CEO, Collective Shift:

“At the end of the day, learning is relational and learning is social and it happens in communities. And we all have to be a part of building those communities. We all have our own skills and assets that we can bring to this conversation and be a part of this moment and this movement. But we can only do that if we come as good listeners and as learners in the participation of figuring out what the solution is.”

John King — president and CEO, The Education Trust and former secretary of Education:

“Part of the challenge is we have these pockets of excellence and innovation, but we aren’t smart about scaling the incentives and the policy environment to get where we need to go.”

Top photo: Grammy, Oscar and Golden Globe winner John Legend delivers the Tuesday evening keynote address at the ASU + GSV Summit 2018 in San Diego. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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