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September 28, 2009

USHER: A LIFE POWERED BY SERVICE

Posted: 06:05 PM ET

56264433In the beginning, New Look was an avenue through which I could donate funds to important causes or make special appearances to call attention to issues. I worked with the Make A Wish Foundation to grant wishes and provide memories for those with little time left for new memories. And then, I started Camp New Look to help young people explore the business side of the entertainment industry to prepare them for success in whatever career paths they ultimately chose.

While it may seem like these acts are unrelated, they are in fact very connected. They all represent ways that I was able to use my unique gifts and talents to serve. I didn’t need to be a politician, a community organizer, an army sergeant or a teacher to serve. I could see things that needed to change and people that needed support and I found a way to use what I had—music and entertainment—to serve.

There is no better example of a collective activity that depicts Powered By Service, than my experience in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. After the worst natural disaster our country had ever experienced, many organizations, individuals and media fled toward the Gulf Coast to help while families were fleeing away from it. I knew I needed to do something that was more than just a simple charitable act, but the start of a longer promise with the community.

HandsOn Network was one of the first non-profit organizations to hit the ground in the Gulf Coast and begin the rebuild. HandsOn Network got me involved and showed me the extent of what had to be done. Seeing the devastation and talking to youth and families, in that moment, at that time, it was easy to feel powerless. What could I possibly do as an entertainer, a philanthropist, a man, to create change here?

We worked with HandsOn Network to start Project Restart. We hosted a concert with some of the biggest names in entertainment to raise attention, dollars and to recruit volunteers to the area.

And there it was. My music, my talent, my friends became my power to serve.

At that time Camp New Look was also thriving. This ability to have power in our darkest hours needed to be translated to the youth at camp. We began incorporating service into the culture of Camp New Look. We had young people out engaged in park clean ups and soup kitchens.

Then in 2008, with the help of Rev. Joseph Lowery, the youth at Camp New Look started the “I Can’t, But You Can” campaign to register voters. This campaign helped young people understand that while they didn’t have the power to vote in the 2008 election, they had the power to help others vote. That summer 130 New Look campers mobilized 4000 peers to register 17,000 voters.

More important than what they did, was how they did it. Just like me, these youth began to understand their power to serve doesn’t mean they just had power to show up and get involved. They had power to use their music, their interests in business, their art, their networks on Twitter and Facebook, and their ability to find unique solutions to create change.

This was the inspiration for the Powered By Service initiative. Launching today, September 24, 2009, at the Clinton Global Initiative, Powered By Service is out to change the way we fundamentally think about service and youth in our communities. I have learned that everyone has power to serve.

Powered By Service finally recognized that service is more than traditional volunteerism, it’s about creating change on our terms—through music, dance, poetry, business, philanthropy, theater, writing . . . anything. By opening this door to new avenues for service more young people, especially those confronting communities’ most difficult challenges, will see they do have the power to create change.     

This summer, I had the opportunity to witness a young woman find her power through this revelation. Carmen Seay of Detroit, Michigan came to Camp New Look with a voice like Lena Horne and all the stormy weather facing the city of Detroit. At camp, Carmen learned how to use her singing and speaking voice to have power over issues in her own community as well as the global community. She articulately expressed how she could use her talents to engage in a global effort to end malaria with the Nothing But Nets campaign as well as lead local efforts to end school closures which were contributing to the high school dropout rate in her community. By the end of camp Carmen explained that this new found understanding of service and power had changed her life.

We must make sure that every young person has the opportunity to find the power Carmen found this summer. Powered By Service is designed to give young people the tools, resources and support to do just that.

Boys and Girls Club took a bunch of us out to do a park clean up. Most of us didn’t think much of it at the time. We were outside. We had a good time. We were all able to pitch in and accomplish a goal. But, at the end of the day, we did have a little more pride in our community and a little more belief that even the smallest acts can create change. That small act planted the seed for a life Powered By Service.

As my life continued I was fortunate enough with the support of family, friends and remarkable mentors to find success in music and entertainment, but I was still grounded with the understanding that I must find ways to give back just as much as I have been given. In 1999, I started Usher’s New Look Foundation.

In the beginning, New Look was an avenue through which I could donate funds to important causes or make special appearances to call attention to issues. I worked with the Make A Wish Foundation to grant wishes and provide memories for those with little time left for new memories. And then, I started Camp New Look to help young people explore the business side of the entertainment industry to prepare them for success in whatever career paths they ultimately chose.

While it may seem like these acts are unrelated, they are in fact very connected. They all represent ways that I was able to use my unique gifts and talents to serve. I didn’t need to be a politician, a community organizer, an army sergeant or a teacher to serve. I could see things that needed to change and people that needed support and I found a way to use what I had—music and entertainment—to serve.

There is no better example of a collective activity that depicts Powered By Service, than my experience in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. After the worst natural disaster our country had ever experienced, many organizations, individuals and media fled toward the Gulf Coast to help while families were fleeing away from it. I knew I needed to do something that was more than just a simple charitable act, but the start of a longer promise with the community.

HandsOn Network was one of the first non-profit organizations to hit the ground in the Gulf Coast and begin the rebuild. HandsOn Network got me involved and showed me the extent of what had to be done. Seeing the devastation and talking to youth and families, in that moment, at that time, it was easy to feel powerless. What could I possibly do as an entertainer, a philanthropist, a man, to create change here?

We worked with HandsOn Network to start Project Restart. We hosted a concert with some of the biggest names in entertainment to raise attention, dollars and to recruit volunteers to the area.

And there it was. My music, my talent, my friends became my power to serve.

At that time Camp New Look was also thriving. This ability to have power in our darkest hours needed to be translated to the youth at camp. We began incorporating service into the culture of Camp New Look. We had young people out engaged in park clean ups and soup kitchens.

Then in 2008, with the help of Rev. Joseph Lowery, the youth at Camp New Look started the “I Can’t, But You Can” campaign to register voters. This campaign helped young people understand that while they didn’t have the power to vote in the 2008 election, they had the power to help others vote. That summer 130 New Look campers mobilized 4000 peers to register 17,000 voters.

More important than what they did, was how they did it. Just like me, these youth began to understand their power to serve doesn’t mean they just had power to show up and get involved. They had power to use their music, their interests in business, their art, their networks on Twitter and Facebook, and their ability to find unique solutions to create change.

This was the inspiration for the Powered By Service initiative. Launching today, September 24, 2009, at the Clinton Global Initiative, Powered By Service is out to change the way we fundamentally think about service and youth in our communities. I have learned that everyone has power to serve.

Powered By Service finally recognized that service is more than traditional volunteerism, it’s about creating change on our terms—through music, dance, poetry, business, philanthropy, theater, writing . . . anything. By opening this door to new avenues for service more young people, especially those confronting communities’ most difficult challenges, will see they do have the power to create change.     

This summer, I had the opportunity to witness a young woman find her power through this revelation. Carmen Seay of Detroit, Michigan came to Camp New Look with a voice like Lena Horne and all the stormy weather facing the city of Detroit. At camp, Carmen learned how to use her singing and speaking voice to have power over issues in her own community as well as the global community. She articulately expressed how she could use her talents to engage in a global effort to end malaria with the Nothing But Nets campaign as well as lead local efforts to end school closures which were contributing to the high school dropout rate in her community. By the end of camp Carmen explained that this new found understanding of service and power had changed her life.

We must make sure that every young person has the opportunity to find the power Carmen found this summer. Powered By Service is designed to give young people the tools, resources and support to do just that.

Beginning this week, tools will be available online at www.poweredbyservice.org to help young people across the country learn about issues they care about and apply their skills and talents—whatever they are—to create solutions to those issues. In addition to tools for learning and planning we’ll be offering youth small grants of $500 to execute these projects. Finally, young alumni of Camp New Look and Usher’s New Look staff and partner organizations will be available to support youth as they implement their projects Powered By Service.

By providing these resources to youth we are not only issuing a call to action, but we are ensuring youth have the tools they need to succeed as change agents in communities. Through Powered By Service we will work with partners to increase the diversity, relevance and accessibility of service by helping 5,000,000 young people find their unique way to serve.

With 5,000,000 additional people out there creating change, those problems that once seemed insurmountable will finally have solutions that are Powered By Service.

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