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Since the rapper/producer’s upbringing in the Boyle Heights projects, music has been his outlet for social issues, Will.i.am said at the i.am.angel Foundation’s TRANS4M Gala on Tuesday night. His philanthropy for the last 10 years has aimed to do just that: give students in underprivileged communities — Boyle Heights, L.A., or elsewhere — an outlet and opportunity through not just art, but science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM).
“There’s more business around crime and incarceration than there are around preparation and providing a path toward excellence,” will.i.am said. “I wanted to take the success that I had and the network that I’ve built to surround ‘my kids’ with tomorrow’s skill sets. Not only so they can fill jobs, but create jobs and fight business with business because crime is a business.”
A star-studded collective of musicians, actors, entertainment executives and tech giants attended the TRANS4M gala at Milk Studios last night.
“I stood up in the same shoes that probably I’m wearing now, and I loved it,” Norman Lear recalled about being the TRANS4M Gala honoree two years ago. “I adore will.i.am as does my wife, and we love doing whatever he is a part of.”
The foundation has already supported 6,000 K-12 schoolchildren in the greater Los Angeles area’s underserved communities to “stay in school, introduce and engage them in STEAM activities, graduate from high school with college-caliber grades and then successfully apply and attend four year colleges and universities,” according to the TRANS4M gala press release. The Foundation also provides funds for said students to graduate without debt.
The evening began with a cocktail reception, where some of will.i.am’s “kids” had the opportunity to demonstrate their skill sets, including the robotic works of Los Stemateros Robotics Team from Boyle Heights. These students, will.i.am said, inspired him to “cry hard-core gangster tears” when they made it to the robotics championships in Houston, Texas and competing against “thousands of kids from all around the world.”
During the reception, students professed “I am” statements. Such statements included: “I am those orange apartments,” “I am a dreamer” and “I am my parents’ best piece of work.” The doors opened at the conclusion of their chants to a warehouse space in the heart of Milk Studios. A collage of album covers lined the walls, an ode to the TRANS4M Gala honoree Quincy Jones’ life’s work. Frank Sinatra’s “It Might as Well Be Swing” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” were displayed.
“The good that has come from all of this work is staggering, so a celebration like tonight is a humbling thing to be a part of,” Scandal actress Bellamy Young told THR, fresh from her own philanthropic efforts in Rwanda as an Ambassador for CARE. “The room itself will be teaming with inspiration and light and heart, but education, the inspiration, everything that they have put in motion blows my mind! That’s also been a part of Quincy’s legacy just bringing people up, empowering people to be their best selves and find their heart’s truths. It’s a perfect pairing.”
The space filled with Jazz music and chatter, but quieted as the i.am.angel founder walked on stage. Will.i.am stood before guests linking arms with the kids.
“Most people in the ghetto say things like, ‘I can’t wait to get out of the ghetto,’ instead of saying, ‘I can’t wait to change my ghetto,’” he said. “Gentrification is happening. We can change our neighborhood ourselves.” During the dinner itself, the i.am.angel Foundation brought more students to the stage while raising more funds for the foundation.
“If I was 10 we would have been friends,” will.i.am said to the students on stage. “Keep at it [robotics]. It will change your life.”
A Q&A with Quincy Jones followed the dinner. “I may have sent a song up to Mars with NASA, but that’s nothing because Quincy Jones did ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ and worked with NASA way before I thought about that,” will.i.am said. The BEP star brought up Jones, the man he credited for the success of Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jackson and Will Smith. The two music moguls launched a conversation about Jones’ lifelong career and the fact that they both share a zodiac sign, being born only two days apart (Jones on March 14 and will.i.am March 15).
The afterparty bookended the night with a performance from The Black Eyed Peas and tributes to Jones’ musical accomplishments: The Masked Singer judge, Nicole Scherzinger, took the stage in a disco-ball evoking jumpsuit while singing Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana.” Singer-songwriter Siedah Garrett, who has worked with Jones, sang her original and one of Jackson’s biggest hits, “Man in the Mirror.” She was met with a chorus of cheers from the guests who gathered toward the stage, as she sang the final words of the anthem: “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.”
Will.i.am also took a moment to discuss Black Eyed Peas’ (BEP) Masters of the Sun, their first album in eight years, which will not be a political album, he said.
“We’re not running for office or anything like that but it’s social commentary. Whereas songs like “Where’s the Love” was an integral tool,” will.i.am said. “How we catapulted on that song, we talked about the state of the world. We are going to continue to do that now.”
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Jamie Lee Curtis