Peapod's plan: All they are saying is give kids a chanceWill.i.am knows a bit about disenfranchised kids. His bandmate and best friend, Apl.d.ap, was one of them.
"When Apl.d.ap came from the Philippines in 1989, he was just a kid who didn't speak any English and was in ESL classes," Will.i.am says. "But my mom took care of him, so we became friends and started the Black Eyed Peas. The first thing we decided when we became successful was to host a Christmas event for an orphanage in Pasadena. It was in a way a tribute to Apl and our coming together."
Now the Peas have taken it to the next level by opening the Peapod Music and Arts Academy at the Watts/Willowbrook Boys and Girls Club in Los Angeles, a state-of-the-art music educational center and recording facility serving youths in foster care and other at-risk teens.
"We gave them greenscreens, ProTools equipment, high-definition digital cameras — everything they'd need to make music and cut films," Will.i.am says. "Peapod gives them the same tools we have and a platform to showcase it."
The academy is funded by the Black Eyed Peas' Peapod Foundation, which is administered by the Entertainment Industry Foundation. To raise even more money for the cause, Paradigm chairman Sam Gores will be feted tonight at the fourth annual Peapod Foundation benefit concert at the Avalon in Hollywood, part of the Grammy Week festivities. Will.i.am, who calls Gores a "mentor" and "role model," will be on hand with the Peas to perform along with special guests John Legend, Ne-Yo, Natasha Bedingfield, Earth, Wind & Fire, the Roots, Lil Jon, Teddy Riley and Mix Master Mike.
Gores, who was on hand for the center's opening last month, says: "The best gift you can give anyone is to bet on their potential and show them what is possible. I think that is what the center does."
The Watts center is a pilot program. "We're going to East Los Angeles next, and hopefully all over the country," Will.i.am says. "Afterwards, we hope to hit South Africa, the Philippines, Brazil and others. We want to continue to build these hubs all over the world to give inner-city kids tools to do these things."
Billboard's Mariel Concepcion contributed to this column.