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Gucci’s recent weeklong L.A. blitz — including the brand’s spring-summer 2022 fashion show on Hollywood Boulevard and sponsorship of LACMA’s Art+Film Gala — also involved a North America Changemakers Summit on Nov. 3 at Crenshaw High School’s new performing arts center, marking the grand opening of the space.
Among those showing up to kick off the Gucci North America Changemakers third year of programming were entertainer-philanthropist Will.i.am, writer-activist Michaela Angela Davis, Harlem couturier Dapper Dan and business leader Kimberly Blackwell, along with actress Jodie Turner-Smith, poet-activist Cleo Wade and NAACP president-CEO Derrick Johnson.
Launched in 2019, the Gucci Changemakers North America program consists of an impact fund that will support 12 nonprofits with one-year $50,000 grants in 2022, while the initiative’s scholarship program will award $20,000 to up to 10 graduating high school seniors, based on financial need. Students must be planning to study design, marketing, film, art, communications, merchandising or other creative and business fields at a college, university or community college. The program — spearheaded by Antoine Phillips, Gucci’s L.A.-based vp of brand and culture engagement — is currently accepting applications, with a deadline of Jan. 28. Click here to learn more and to apply.
A short film, The New Class: Gucci Changemakers 3.0, was unveiled at the event by writer-director-producer Sage Dolan-Sandrino, created with co-director Kam and cinematographer Chance Chamblin to emphasize the power of artistic and creative freedom.
“As important as the creativity, which is, of course, the lifeblood of this brand, it is the sense of community that is at the heart of Gucci and that is the true heartbeat of the company and who we are,” said Gucci Americas president and CEO Susan Chokachi, an L.A. native.
Taking to the stage alongside Chokachi, Turner-Smith spoke to the crowd of high school students: “It is crucial that, at every possible turn, we empower and engage youth, the next generation of creatives and entrepreneurs. It is imperative that we invest in you and in your dreams, invest in you with more than just words and ideas, but with money and time. Not tomorrow, but today … If there’s one thing that my travels through three different careers over the course of 35 years and a lot of struggles has taught me, it is that support is the engine that fuels humankind. Everything that I am today is the result of a network and community of people and institutions that have been my support system and guiding light.”
She was followed by Wade, who said, “It is not an accident that we are all on the planet together at this moment in history, and we have to take care of each other. That’s really what Changemakers is all about. It is intention and commitment blended together to create the world we all deserve to live in together.”
A panel discussion on the power of art, creativity and culture to create social impact was hosted by fashion model, model agency founder and activist Bethann Hardison (who garnered a standing ovation from the crowd) with artists Mickalene Thomas and Raquel Chevremont, Yale Law School Director of Diversity Equity and Inclusion Yaseen Eldik and photographer-filmmaker Tyler Mitchell.
Surrounded by a throng of students, Will.i.am was one of the last people at the event, giving each student time and attention. Since 2009, his i.am Angel Foundation has assisted students in Boyle Heights with scholarships and educational opportunities. Earlier this month, Will.i.am spoke out (along with Jimmy Iovine, Issa Rae and Dr. Dre) to support a November 2022 ballot initiative by former L.A. schools superintendent Austin Beutner that would raise about $800 million annually to benefit arts programs in public schools.
Will.i.am told THR: “Any time companies like Gucci — who have a large percentage of folks that come from the inner city that celebrate and hold up their brand — come to the ‘hood, I’m gonna be here. I applaud their efforts to inspire and practice inclusion, and the whole vision around diversity. Somebody came up to me when I was at an assembly in high school and I will always remember that. Now I have a school in the ghetto that I come from in East L.A. We teach kids computer science and robotics. I started with 65 kids. Last year, we served just a little under 2,000 kids in my neighborhood. And now, because of our partnership with LAUSD, we serve just a little under 11,000 students.”
Dapper Dan, also speaking to THR, said, “My comment is, ‘Damn, I wish I had this when I was coming up!’ I think that the most inspiring thing that these young people are gonna find is that the staircase that wasn’t there for me is there for them. It’s all about staircases, a way to climb up. And I think Changemakers affords them this ability to climb the staircase or even find the staircase.”
He continued: “I was a wayward child. I dropped out of school in the ninth grade and went back to high school at 23 years old. And the reason I was able to do that is because the Urban League educational program opened up satellite storefronts for kids who were on the corners, who wanted to go back to the schools. What I learned from that, and what I tell young people, is that the highest graduation rate that they will ever have in L.A. , young boys who are like myself, is graduating from the corners.”
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