John Legend on the Startling High School "Revelation" That Sparked His Music Career

THR John Legend - H 2014
Eric Ryan Anderson

THR John Legend - H 2014

The singer explains in THR's Philanthropy Issue how his own experiences led him to launch a program to help New York City educators

This story first appeared in the Aug. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

John Legend made a startling discovery during his junior year in high school: He could write. "It was a big revelation," the chart-topping musician tells THR. "My teacher made storytelling come alive for me and showed me that I could be a storyteller, too."

Which explains why Legend, 35, is launching a program called LRNG (pronounced "learning") -- an offshoot of his 7-year-old anti-poverty Show Me Campaign -- to help educators in New York City, and eventually throughout the country, develop tech-friendly teaching practices that make sense for 21st century students. Working in partnership with the National Writing Project, Legend's latest initiative encourages educators to think in new ways about their jobs and sets up methods for them to stay connected to one another with mentoring and idea-sharing programs.

"We already know that if kids have great teachers, the chances of them going forward and doing great things go up significantly," says the "All of Me" singer-songwriter. "Instead of celebrating heroic teachers, we need to share best learning practices so that all of our teachers can be better, access what's working in other classrooms and uplift the entire profession."

Some of those innovative methods? Jenny Adelman, an English teacher at the International High School at Union Square in New York, asked her freshman class to write their own endings to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to better understand the decisions authors make while writing. English teacher Christy Kingham had her 11th graders at the Young Women's Leadership School of Astoria in Queens use "every online platform" to make her classroom a window on the world. And Sam Saltz, an English teacher at ELLIS Prep Academy, had his class of immigrant students stage Macbeth in different genres so they could see the effects of setting and style on characters. "If you can create text," says Saltz, "it's much less scary to read it." 

Go here to find out more about the Show Me Campaign and make a donation.

Read more from THR's Philanthropy Issue here.