Unforgettable

Four high-profile blacks remember the moment or event that changed their lives

"The most life-changing thing for me was becoming the first black Miss America in Atlantic City in September 1983. It took me instantly from life as a 20-year-old coed at Syracuse University to international notoriety and incredible responsibility. I look back now on how young I was and the just enormous pressure I'd never dreamed would come along at that time in my life. It's given me a lot of empathy for anyone who has a major crisis or significant event happen to them at a young age -- like Michael Phelps is experiencing now."
-- Vanessa Williams, three-time NAACP Image Award winner and co-star, ABC's "Ugly Betty"



"It was my mom's decision to send me to school in the Palisades and Brentwood. We actually lived in a Mexican-American neighborhood in the projects of East L.A. But for 12 years -- from the ages of 7 to 18 -- my mother put me on a bus that took me on an hourlong ride each way, every day. It brought to my life true diversity, different cultures, different ways of thinking. It truly trained me for life and is why I see the world today the way I do."
-- will.i.am (aka William James Adams Jr.), former frontman for the Black Eyed Peas and three-time 2009 Image Award nominee
"Hearing Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech (in August 1963) changed my life forever when I was just a young black kid growing up in the South. It gave me the belief that I could do anything in my life that I was able to imagine, in spite of the color of my skin. It gave me faith."
-- Randy Jackson, five-time Emmy nominee and judge on Fox's "American Idol"


"The one incident that defines who I am today was the day my mom came into my room, and I was having a really bad day. I must have been 9 or 10 years old. She handed me a pen and paper and said, 'Write it down.' She didn't tell me what to write, but I knew what she meant. I'd had a lot of pent-up aggression from my father having left us, and my mother somehow knew that writing about it would help release it. It changed everything for me. I took that and turned it into a prominent songwriting career."
-- Ne-Yo (aka Shaffer Chimere Smith), singer-songwriter, record producer, rapper, actor and 2009 Image Award nominee
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