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John Legend
John Legend

***Correction: The original story named a wrong title for one of Legend’s closing songs.

Nine-time Grammy winner John Legend urged a large crowd at the University of Colorado-Boulder campus Monday night to help make a difference in the education of America’s youth.

“The inequality of education is the civil rights issue of our generation,” Legend said to a crowd of about 1,200 people in a 90-minute event at Macky Auditorium.

Legend both informed and entertained guests for “An Evening of Discussion and Music,” presented by CU’s Cultural Events and the Distinguished Speakers boards. The musician told the crowd of mostly CU students that education is a gift — one that can change the world.

“I’m here to motivate you to make a difference,” said Legend. “We can’t allow adults to have low expectations of kids just because they come from the other side of the tracks.”

An active philanthropist, Legend, 34, was notably named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2009, as well as BET’s Humanitarian of the Year in 2010.

During his 30-minute discussion Monday night, Legend said education inequality faces a myriad of issues that not only include race and funding, but also the recruitment, training and development of school teachers.

According to Legend, a basic problem of the education system is the lack of effort in preparing kids for college as early as preschool. Although he said he doesn’t like when schools are dubbed “dropout factories,” the term is accurate for many underprivileged systems.

Jake Wiebe, a CU freshman studying astrophysics, said that what resonated most with him was when Legend mentioned that “we don’t pay teachers enough for the value of their jobs.”

Wiebe’s mother is a first-grade teacher who he said, “works nonstop, even through the summer,” and doesn’t get paid nearly enough. “He didn’t come here to just bash the system, he provided solutions and answers.”

David Coons, a CU freshman, said Legend’s introduction is what got his interest piqued.

“I never thought how education is a gift. (Wiebe and I) both went to privileged schools and it’s just an interesting way to look at it,” said Coons. “I think a lot of us take it for granted.”

After his discussion, Legend opened the floor for a 30-minute question-and-answer session and closed with five of his hit songs, including “Wake Up Everybody” and “Green Light.”

Nuni Nyakoon, a CU freshman said she enjoyed the singer’s lecture.

“He was really cool and I hope we have more speakers like him in the future,” said Nyakoon.

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