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Ep. 500 — John Legend - The Axe Files with David Axelrod

And now from the College of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN Audio: The Axe Information along with your host, David Axelrod.

That is the five hundredth episode of The Axe Information. I am going to have extra to say about that on the finish of this podcast. However appropriately, right this moment, I am joined by a legend, John Legend. The Grammy, Tony, Emmy and Oscar-winning musician and movie producer. His private journey is exceptional, however the best way by which he is leveraged his superstar to fight injustice and create alternative right here and world wide is really inspiring. So right here it’s: Episode 500, my dialog with John Legend.

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John Legend, it is nice to see you. I’m so excited to have you ever on my five hundredth episode.

Oh, wow. That is a pleasant milestone.

Of The Axe Information. Sure. And I wanted somebody who was as much as the duty, and who higher than a legend to be on my five hundredth podcast? And I am going to discuss to you later about how John Stephens grew to become John Legend.

However I need to speak about going backwards and discover the Stephens household. I do know you had been on with Skip Gates on his present and he explored your roots and also you realized loads. And it was like a unprecedented story. Inform me about your loved ones going again.

He realized a lot about my household that we had no concept about. And this was like cinematic. A number of the tales he was capable of finding out that we had a few of our ancestors had been enslaved within the south in a border state, and had been granted their freedom by their enslaver upon his or her demise after which moved to Ohio, which is the place I used to be born and raised. Moved to Ohio, however among the surviving kin of the enslaver needed to principally convey them again into slavery. And there was a complete courtroom case fought about it. And Ohio principally was on our aspect, on our household’s aspect, and fought for us in courtroom. And so they gained. They had been in a position to win our household’s freedom and the appropriate for them to remain in Ohio. And I had no concept about any of that till I used to be on Discovering Your Roots with Skip Gates.

Now, one factor that we are able to assume is that one of many issues that sustained them by all these ordeals was religion, which I do know was a really massive a part of your upbringing. Speak to me about what the church meant to you as a baby.

Properly, my household principally ran the church. So after I thought concerning the church, it was actually my household. So my grandfather was our pastor and my grandmother was the church organist. My mom was the choir director. And my father taught Sunday college and sang within the church choir and performed the drums as nicely. So all of us had been very concerned in operating the church as a household. And I spent plenty of my time there as a child. And in the case of music, that is actually the place I bought most of my foundational coaching as a musician, singing and enjoying in church, studying from my grandmother, studying from my mom, studying from my household and singing with them and enjoying with them. And you may hear that story quite a bit, notably with Black musicians singing R&B and soul music, that plenty of our roots are from gospel music, and we develop our chops by enjoying and singing in church. And I am actually a kind of of us.

That affect remains to be — you’ll be able to hear that affect in your music.

Completely. It is right here and it is right here to remain.

You knew very younger that, man, I like being up right here singing and performing in entrance of individuals.

I beloved it. I beloved it from a really younger age. I’d do it in school. I’d do it at church. I’d do it at recitals for my piano instructor. And both approach, I loved being on stage. I beloved the connection I felt with folks. I beloved the suggestions I bought from folks. And I beloved being inventive. I beloved developing with a efficiency and developing with songs ultimately that I began writing after I was a bit bit older as a child, however I beloved all of that and I needed to do it for a residing. And after I was a child, that meant, you recognize, I needed to be on Star Search. I need to be on the Grammys. However ultimately it meant that I began actually working by myself unique materials and began creating what an album from me would sound like. All these issues began taking place after I was a bit bit older, however I used to be in school and after which in my early twenties after I began to determine my sound and the way I needed to sound if I got here out with a file, and that every one began taking place over these years. But it surely began with me singing and enjoying in church as a child.

And inform me about your of us, as a result of I do know that it wasn’t a straight line for your loved ones, that there was some actual wrestle.

That is proper. So I grew up in that household. And you’d assume, you recognize, every thing was fairly peachy eager for some time. However my grandmother died in her late fifties, which is fairly younger for anybody to die. However she had coronary heart failure. And it actually rocked my household, notably it rocked my mom as a result of that was her mom. And he or she grew to become depressed and ultimately disconnected from the household, from my father notably, however from all of us. After which as soon as they bought divorced, she form of was basically residing within the streets, hooked on medicine and self-medicating and form of disconnecting from us as a household. And we misplaced her for a couple of decade. She recovered. And ultimately my dad and mom bought remarried and all these items occurred. And he or she’s residing a really wholesome life now and is a superb mom and an amazing grandmother. However for these ten years, we barely noticed her.

How outdated had been you when she broke away?

It was principally my whole adolescence. So she left after I was round 11. I began going to public college for the primary time. In eighth grade I used to be the age of a sixth grader, however I had been homeschooled. And they also skipped me up a few grades as a result of I examined out of the grade I used to be presupposed to be in.

Your mother homeschooled you?

My mother homeschooled me. And so I begin eighth grade after I’m 11 years outdated and highschool after I’m 12. And all of that occurred with my mother’s assist and preparation. However then she disappeared basically for a couple of decade.

How does an 11 12 months outdated cope with that?

Properly it is arduous you recognize however we had one another. It was my dad and me and my three siblings. So there’s 5 of us in the home, my dad and 4 youngsters. After which we had a lot of kin that lived close by. My uncles, my aunts, my cousins. And, you recognize — Hillary wrote that guide, “It Takes a Village.” And that is, you recognize, based mostly on a, I feel an African proverb. But it surely does take a village particularly when one of many dad and mom is lacking and also you want that further help. And our village actually rallied round us, my church, my prolonged household, even of us who labored on the public faculties that I went to, like counselors and academics, folks simply all pitched in and helped us. And a part of it, I feel folks noticed plenty of potential in me. I used to be a straight-A scholar and normally close to the highest of my class, and lots of people needed to be sure that that potential wasn’t wasted. And they also took specific care to, you recognize, make investments their time and vitality into ensuring I did not slip by the cracks. And so I am grateful for these folks in my life.

However there isn’t any substitute for a mother.

There is no substitute for a mother. And it was robust for us. You already know, I feel a part of the best way I coped with it, actually, was by music. It was by discovering different retailers and discovering methods to attach with folks by music. And a part of it was I simply needed to remain busy in order that I did not need to go residence and, you recognize, form of take into consideration the truth that we did not have our mother there. And I prevented her for some time as a result of she simply appeared unhealthy. She was addicted on the time and it was a tricky time to see her. And so I form of prevented seeing her and simply threw myself into music and college and all the opposite distractions that I may discover.

You already know, I learn someplace you saying that you simply’re not an emotional individual, that you simply’re probably not demonstrative.

Which is so putting to me as a result of your music is so evocative and connecting. And it form of bought me questioning, trigger I’ve accomplished these podcasts with, you recognize, like Tom Hanks, for instance, who had a very tough upbringing and lived in ten totally different locations. And stated, you recognize, I discovered my group in theater. I discovered my group there. And I used to be questioning what music — you form of answered this — however music is a method to categorical your self so you do not have to specific your self in different methods.

Yeah, you recognize, I feel lots of people who’re good on stage are additionally actually shy in individual and and guarded in individual. And I used to be very guarded and reserved and shy and like I stated, I used to be a few years youthful than everybody, too. And in order that form of exacerbated no matter social awkwardness that I had. And so music was that point after I felt like I used to be in management and I used to be I used to be my full self and I may categorical myself totally. And I feel it’s therapeutic to have the ability to try this and be on stage and really feel such as you’re being, you recognize, this idealized model of your self in entrance of an viewers. After which it makes it simpler so that you can be offstage, too, as a result of I feel I grew to become extra social after I was in a position to introduce myself to folks on stage by music.

Yeah, he truly — Hanks notably stated the identical factor. He stated he appeared on stage and folks would snicker and folks would reply and it was connecting for him.

So that you speak about your mother self-medicating and you have spent plenty of your life, your grownup life, addressing points like prison justice reform and sentencing reform and so forth. How a lot was she in your thoughts? How a lot did that focus you on what occurs to folks after they have psychological well being points or drug associated points and get handled as in the event that they’re criminals?

Properly, you recognize, what’s fascinating is usually, notably if you’re youthful, you do not see the macro view of issues. You are simply seeing what’s taking place in your life. After which as somebody who prevented getting in bother with the police, I noticed that I used to be ready to do this. And also you begin to see every thing by the lens of particular person accountability. You are considering, nicely, my mom made errors. She coped along with her trauma and her tragedy within the fallacious approach, and this prompted penalties for her. After which I had a number of pals, you recognize, who bought in bother with the legislation. You already know, a few of them had been hustling, they had been drug dealing. They had been concerned in conditions they should not have been in. And so after I’m youthful, I am simply considering of these people and the errors that they made and there being form of virtually like an automated punishment for these errors within the legislation. However I am not enthusiastic about the truth that these legal guidelines had been written by males and by girls with frailties and with political, you recognize, factors of view. And that these had been coverage selections that these lawmakers and executives made to place our nation within the place the place we had been probably the most incarcerated nation on the earth. So I noticed the micro view of the person making a foul alternative, however I did not assume in any respect after I was a child concerning the macro selections that had been made to make us probably the most incarcerated nation on the earth. To make us, you recognize, pursue the struggle on medicine. To make us pursue these tough-on-crime insurance policies that lock up, you recognize, hundreds of thousands of individuals yearly in America. And so it took me getting older after which studying extra concerning the macro aspect of issues, studying, you recognize, Michelle Alexander’s guide, “The New Jim Crow” studying Bryan Stevenson’s work and studying others’ work concerning the system that we have created by coverage selections over the previous few many years that dramatically accelerated incarceration and made incarceration the go-to answer for a variety of societal points. And people had been all coverage selections that had been made. And people put us on this place proper now. And in order an older individual, I used to be in a position to relate my mother’s particular person trauma and wrestle to all these different hundreds of thousands of people that have gone by substance abuse, psychological well being struggles, all these different struggles that they’ve gone by and the way we as a nation have determined to deal with these points virtually with the identical answer on a regular basis, which is lock an increasing number of folks up.

Yeah, I discuss loads about psychological well being right here on this podcast as a result of we deal with it as some form of character deficiency.

Fairly than an sickness. And that leads us to horrible coverage selections. I need to come again to what you are particularly doing in a couple of minutes, however I do not need to lose the thread of your story as a result of it is too good to not comply with that thread. So that you go to varsity at 16, you go to the College of Pennsylvania, which is sort of a university. As soon as once more, you arrive and also you’re youthful than all people.

Youthful than all people. I am poorer than all people, just about coming from a small city when many of the youngsters got here from both massive cities or suburbs and main metropolises. And, you recognize, I simply felt misplaced in plenty of methods. However once more, music was my connector. I began singing in an a cappella group there, made plenty of pals that approach, and simply related to plenty of different folks by music. I began working at a church up in Scranton as nicely, the place our president is from. I used to drive up on the weekends and play and sing at this church and direct the choir there.

However how did you join with that? You are a child. You are a youngster.

I performed and sang loads rising up in Ohio, performed in church loads. And one among our household pals knew a pastor in Scranton, Pennsylvania, who was on the lookout for a brand new musician. And I began simply going up there, I feel as soon as a month or twice a month. And ultimately they employed me to return up each Sunday. And yeah, it was simply all by a household connection and household good friend connection. And I began, you recognize, residing a double life the place I used to be a scholar all week. After which I’d drive to Scranton on Saturday, rehearse with the choir, after which play for them on Sunday morning, after which drive again to high school proper after Sunday morning service.

I imply, one of many issues that’s one other throughline in your story is you are all the time ridiculously busy.

I imply, as a result of Penn shouldn’t be a simple college.

It is not straightforward. And, you recognize, I used to be doing my primary, you recognize, actions had been truly going to high school. I additionally had a work-study job at Upward Certain, which is a form of a pre-college program for underrepresented and first technology and minority college students. After which I used to be main the a cappella group that I used to be in ultimately, in order that took fairly a couple of hours of my week, after which I’d drive as much as Scranton and do what I did with the choir. So these had been my like primary issues in my life and I didn’t sleep sufficient. I used to be all the time sleepy, sleepy, driving to Scranton, sleeping at school. I all the time inform folks I used to be busier then than I’m now, for positive. Though I’ve a household and a reasonably demanding profession. I bought much less sleep then and labored extra again then in school than I do now.

Properly, you need to have been awake at school lengthy sufficient or sufficient since you— this type of blew my thoughts that you simply went to work on the Boston Consulting Group.

Which is a, you recognize, a significant company strategic consulting agency.

I labored there for 3 years. I graduated magna cum laude from Penn with an English main, and I knew that I needed to do music, however I wanted a job. And most of my pals had been making use of to those corporations, you recognize, the banks and the consulting corporations. I did not go to Wharton, however Wharton is true there on our campus. And so we had been a giant feeder college into plenty of these massive corporations. And, you recognize, these had been the celebrated jobs that had been accessible. And I did not even take into account that form of work. I do not even know what they did. I did not know anybody who did it till I began to know alumni, you recognize, who had been like a 12 months or two forward of me, who had been, you recognize, coming again to campus to recruit. And one among my pals, her identify was Kenna, she got here again to Penn to recruit. She had labored at BCG on the time, and he or she had this occasion she was part of the place alumni will come again and converse to Black and Brown college students about these careers that had been accessible to them. And I sat subsequent to her and he or she advised me all concerning the work she was doing and it sounded fascinating. So I utilized to BCG and some different corporations. I bought interviews with BCG and McKinsey, however I did not get a suggestion at McKinsey. I bought one at BCG and it was for 50 grand a 12 months, and for me that was some huge cash on the time. So my dad was a manufacturing facility employee. My mom stayed at residence with us. There was no level at which our household earnings was higher than 50 grand a 12 months, and that was the primary wage that I used to be supplied popping out of school. And I used to be like, nicely, I bought to take this job. So I graduate, begin working at this consulting agency and I determine I’ll get a file deal inside a 12 months or two and I can give up this job. By that time, I had already performed on “All the pieces Is All the pieces” on Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation album. I did that whereas I used to be nonetheless in school, and I used to be beginning to work with totally different producers and writers and and recording a demo whereas I used to be nonetheless in class. And so I figured my massive break was going to be proper across the nook. But it surely took 5 years from after I graduated from college to after I bought a file deal. And through that point, three of these years I used to be working at BCG.

Yeah. I imply, the factor that strikes me is, as you recognize, most performers, their aspect jams are like ready tables and tending bar and stuff like that.

That will need to have been absorbing.

It was, it was plenty of time and vitality, however I discovered time to write down songs, I discovered time to attach with folks. And you recognize, that first 12 months I used to be in Boston, which wasn’t nice for my music profession, however I requested them to let me switch to New York for my second and third years, they usually allowed that. And this can be a time when the Web growth was taking place, that first one, close to the tip of, you recognize, Clinton’s time in workplace and younger individuals who had been working in these consulting corporations had been all leaving to go work for dot com. They might go work for Pets.com or no matter dot com, each dot com, each phrase that had a dot com after it was beginning to, you recognize, entice all these younger, sensible folks. And so our consulting agency was beginning to lose folks to that. And so—

Yeah, that was a great time to ask for a favor. So I am like, nicely, I must switch to New York. And so they had been like, okay. So I transferred to New York and that was when issues began actually opened up on my music profession so I may work all day after which I’d play gigs in New York. I’d simply meet totally different folks within the business. I met Kanye throughout that point.

Yeah, which grew to become a formative relationship.

Sure, after all. So I, one among my roommates from school and from New York was a man named DeVon Harris. And DeVon was Kanye’s cousin, is Kanye’s cousin. And Kanye moved from Chicago to the New York space and began to, you recognize, blossom as a younger hip hop producer. And DeVon was like, you started working with my cousin. He simply moved right here and we began working collectively. And I ultimately labored on plenty of his early recordings and he labored on plenty of mine. My demo ultimately grew to become my debut album, Get Lifted, and his demo ultimately grew to become School Dropout, all of which we labored on collectively.

Yeah, as a result of it is fascinating that you simply guys each had been in form of the identical place. You each had been very, very gifted younger guys. Simply looking for a method to break by.

Yeah. And, you recognize, he broke by just a bit bit earlier than I did, however we had been principally friends and developing collectively. However he was able to essentially assist me as a producer, and he started to have an increasing number of connections within the enterprise. So ultimately I signed to his manufacturing firm as form of like a go-between between me and any main label that I’d signal with. So I used to be signed to his manufacturing firm, Good Music, and he helped me get signed to a significant label cope with Columbia. And I signed with them in 2004.

We will take a brief break and we’ll be proper again with extra of The Axe Information… And now again to the present.

Let me ask you about your relationship with him, as a result of I do know you are pals nonetheless, however he is, you recognize, his habits and his politics, I assume, his politics are a lot totally different or have been a lot totally different than yours.

Properly, you recognize, we aren’t pals as a lot as we was, as a result of I actually assume as a result of we publicly disagreed on his operating for workplace, his supporting Trump, I feel it grew to become an excessive amount of for us to maintain our friendship, actually. He was upset that I did not help his run for presidency of america of America for comprehensible causes.

You were not alone in that, by the best way.

I wasn’t alone in that. However, you recognize, he was not blissful about that. And we actually have not been shut since then.

What do not folks perceive about him?

Properly, I feel folks get loads about him. I feel he is been very open with who he’s and his struggles with psychological well being. And he is very actual, actually. So I feel there’s not loads about him that individuals do not get. Like he is been fairly up entrance along with his opinions, his struggles, all of the issues that he is coping with. And I feel what you see with him is just about what you get. I do not really feel like he is an entire separate individual in non-public than he’s in public. I feel you are just about seeing the actual Kanye publicly.

To start with, you had nice success proper out of the bat. You bought a rap filled with Grammys and Grammy nominations and so forth, and also you went from struggling to seek out your home within the music world to a breakthrough artist. How did you course of all of that success that got here all in a rush?

Properly, you recognize, it is fascinating as a result of again to Kanye being with him when it occurred for him, simply, you recognize, like a 12 months or so earlier than it occurred for me, that was truly helpful for me as a result of it was it was virtually like an apprenticeship the place I bought to see every thing that was going to occur to me like a 12 months upfront. And it helped me, I feel, mentally put together for it and know tips on how to transfer in that world earlier than I used to be the main focus of consideration.

In 2006 you took a really public place concerning the struggle in Iraq.

And I do know that, you recognize, your advisers had been nervous about that, as advisors all the time are.

Presumably. I do not keep in mind them being that nervous. They did not actually discuss to me about being nervous. And, you recognize, earlier than the struggle even occurred, I used to be marching on the streets of New York once we had that vast protest as we had been, you recognize, as you can inform, the Bush administration was drumming up help for the struggle. All of us knew, all of us who marched knew that it was bullshit, you recognize, just like the case was bullshit. You would inform they had been looking for causes to do one thing that they actually simply needed to do. And so they had been making an attempt to drum up intelligence help for one thing that clearly they only determined they needed to do. Clearly, Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11, and the case for him having WMDs was, you recognize, weak at finest. And it simply appeared like they had been promoting us a invoice of products that, you recognize, I did not imagine it, and I do know your former boss did not imagine it both.

No, he made a speech to that impact not removed from the place I am sitting right here that most likely modified his life and altered the world.

Yeah, modified American historical past that he made that speech. However, yeah, I used to be a kind of folks that simply did not imagine it from the start, I marched to protest in opposition to it from the start. And I did not imagine in it after it occurred. And I assumed it was a waste of our troops, of our cash, of all of the issues that every one the sources had been put into. And and it distracted us from fixing different issues that wanted to be solved.

I imply, you articulate it virtually as he did once we talked about him making that speech again in 2006. However or I assume it was that that that point it was 2002, within the fall of 2002.

Nobody knew who I used to be after I was marching in 2002 and I used to be simply one other individual on the road marching. Ultimately, you recognize, as we had gone to struggle and they usually had been nonetheless speaking about surges and all these different issues, I used to be nonetheless in opposition to the struggle, however the unique protests had been earlier than anyone knew who I used to be.

And did you all the time have these sensibilities, these political sensibilities? Did you pay plenty of consideration?

Properly, I grew up very impressed by civil rights leaders, so I’d examine them. You already know, I used to be residence schooled for fairly a couple of years in my youth, and we’d go to the county library and my dad and mom would allow us to pick no matter we needed to examine. And I’d all the time gravitate in direction of studying about Black individuals who fought for our rights in America. I used to be all the time impressed by them, all the time happy with the work that they did for our folks. And in order that was my actual introduction to politics was by the inspiration that civil rights heroes dropped at me, together with Dr. King, however others as nicely. And in order that was my first sense of political engagement and consciousness, was enthusiastic about it by the lens of justice and equality and the rights of Black Individuals to be full residents on this nation.

I ought to level out one among his final initiatives, as you recognize, was his opposition to the struggle in Vietnam.

Completely. The struggle in Vietnam, fought to finish poverty, fought to arrange staff. You already know, these are issues that he centered on along with combating for Black folks to have the appropriate to vote and desegregation and all these different issues.

You’ve got stated that you simply cried the night time that Barack Obama bought elected president if you had been watching the protection from Grant Park down the highway right here. However earlier you stated, you recognize, I am not one who’s demonstrative.

Why that second? Why had been you so overcome at that second?

Properly, I assumed concerning the historical past, and the the second that broke me was watching the older Black Individuals who had been within the park. Reverend Jackson was there.

Sure, I used to be standing proper close to him, and I noticed tears pouring down his cheeks. And I thought of every thing that he had been by in his life, together with being there when Dr. King was killed.

And that is what broke me, was watching folks like him crying and enthusiastic about all that that they had seen in America and doubtless by no means believed that this second would have arrived. That was probably the most transferring factor about that. After which, after all, the truth that we had been in a position to be a part of it and assist, you recognize, encourage the nation, encourage younger folks to exit and vote and vote for him. I used to be proud and honored to be a part of it. However actually, what broke me and made me cry was enthusiastic about our ancestors and our predecessors who fought so arduous.

You talked to your of us about it?

Oh, yeah. They had been you recognize, they had been all moved by it. And so they had been proud that I had any small half in, you recognize, serving to him develop into president. And ultimately they bought to fulfill the president when he got here by Ohio on marketing campaign stops. And that was all cool. However yeah, I imply, it was, you recognize, it was inspirational for lots of parents.

You had been a giant and an articulate supporter of his highly effective advocate for him. I need to ask you concerning the position of celebrities in politics. It strikes me that you’re, there are totally different classes. There are individuals who categorical themselves and present up at a fundraiser or lend their identify to a fundraiser. After which there are individuals who transcend that. And it feels such as you you have got two issues happening without delay in your life. One is you are investing of your self in your music, clearly, and in your inventive aspect. You’ve a movie firm now named after your first album, however you are additionally somebody who is not only talking, however organizing. Inform me about what drew you to being rather more energetic than merely lending your identify.

Properly, like I stated, these are points have cared about for a very long time and thought of them for a very long time. I even wrote an essay after I was 15.

Yeah. For a McDonald’s competitors referred to as Future Black Historical past Makers, the place you needed to speak about how you intend to make Black historical past. And I stated I used to be going to develop into a well-known musician and I used to be going to make use of that success to attempt to make the world higher, and notably to struggle for the rights of my folks and my group.

And you do not need to mislead McDonald’s, you recognize that.

You do not need to mislead McDonald’s of all folks. However you recognize, but it surely simply and I forgot about this essay for a very long time, however my dad jogged my memory of it and he was like, Johnny, do you keep in mind this essay you wrote? And I forgot about it, however I vaguely remembered having accomplished it and I learn it and it was so, you recognize, fairly shut to identify on for what I am doing in my life proper now. However I feel I’ve grown over time in understanding tips on how to use my superstar and tips on how to use the facility that I’ve and the attain that I’ve and the sources that I’ve to really make change. And so over time, you recognize, generally I’d be extra centered on training reform. After which extra recently, I have been centered extra on justice reform and in addition simply the entire concept of native authorities and the way we take into consideration how our native governments work on our behalf and make us stronger and and put money into the appropriate issues to make us all more healthy. So I have been interested by all these issues, however there’s extra to it than simply being . When you begin constructing organizations and having a workforce which might be centered on these points. And so we have been actually constructing, we have been elevating cash, we have been contributing our personal cash after which constructing organizations that target these areas. So we began FREEAMERICA, I feel again in like 2014 or 15, someplace round there. And FREEAMERICA has been centered on ending mass incarceration in America. And so we do fairly a couple of totally different initiatives and we discuss to plenty of totally different activists and become involved in plenty of totally different native and state fights and nationwide fights when vital. However a few of it is by enthusiastic about the position of the district legal professional and the way we might be impactful in races for district legal professional in communities. A few of it is by altering legal guidelines on the state stage, just like the Modification 4 in Florida that restored voting rights to of us with a felony conviction, or Prop 47 in California, which downgraded a bunch of crimes that had been initially regarded as felonies to misdemeanors and subsequently decreased our jail and jail inhabitants by about 20,000 folks a 12 months and redirected the funds that we might have spent on these issues to group constructing actions. So we have gotten concerned in state and native fights primarily as a result of that is actually what our prison justice system is about. It is a bunch of prison justice methods in a bunch of locations, whether or not they’re counties, cities, states. That is the place plenty of the selections are made that affect folks’s lives. And the overwhelming majority of our incarcerated individuals are not in federal jail. They’re in both state jail or of their native jail.

Native jails ready, oftentimes ready to be tried.

To be tried, not convicted of a criminal offense, however they cannot afford to get out as a result of they cannot afford the money bail that is been assigned to them. So we began FREEAMERICA after which we began Human Degree, which works with another former Obama alums from FUSE Corps. And that is all about native authorities and the position that native governments play in folks’s lives, notably in enthusiastic about structural racism, whether or not it is housing or environmental or the prison justice system. And total, I discuss loads about budgets and the affect that budgets have on folks’s lives. And it has been stated that budgets are ethical paperwork. And basically what we’re saying is within the budgeting course of, within the useful resource allocation course of, let’s have folks within the room who’re enthusiastic about the group, enthusiastic about the marginalized individuals who have usually been ignored, in order that when these selections are being made, these of us lives are being thought of. And so we rent fellows who’re funded by our fundraising efforts, however they work on the behest of town authorities to be within the communities and attempt to make change throughout the room when the selections are being made about useful resource allocation and tips on how to execute the legal guidelines of that group in a approach that is actually honest. And only for all of the group members.

You journey the nation loads, having plenty of conversations. It is not nearly elevating cash. Speak to me about that.

The very first thing we did once we began FREEAMERICA was do a listening and studying marketing campaign, virtually like a politician would do. You already know, I keep in mind when Hillary ran for Senate the primary time in New York, I used to be you recognize, I used to be one among her constituents on the time. And he or she did a listening tour across the state, you recognize, and plenty of occasions individuals are form of cynical about these issues. However I actually assume she realized loads in that course of and he or she grew to become a greater candidate for it.

John, let me simply interrupt you and inform you that Barack Obama operating for the Senate and spending as a lot time as he did in small cities and rural areas, in addition to the Chicago space, I feel actually ready him for Iowa, but in addition only for being president of a giant, various nation.

Completely. And so we want our flesh pressers to go on listening excursions. We want them to pay attention and take note of what folks care about.

So long as they’re listening, yeah.

Yeah, listen. After which truly, you recognize, govern as if they’ve paid consideration. However anyway, we did an analogous factor. We went round and talked to of us. We went the prisons, went the jails. We went to juvenile detention facilities. We went to fulfill with a gaggle of prosecutors, went to go meet with public defenders. We went to fulfill with corrections officers, all of the stakeholders in our prison authorized system. We met with them to essentially discover out what was on their minds, what they cared about, what they prioritized. We met with plenty of previously incarcerated people who find themselves usually the main activists in the case of this. Discovered what they had been prioritizing, spoke with them loads and began coordinating with them loads of their activist organizations. So we realized what they cared about and realized what we thought can be good for us to struggle for. After which we began choosing fights and getting concerned. A few of it was to cross state propositions. A few of it was to get sure folks elected, which I’ve to form of separate from the nonprofit wing of my life, however I nonetheless personally become involved. After which plenty of it was about training. So taking what I used to be listening to from all these stakeholders after which translating that to my viewers, I’ve, you recognize, 15 million Twitter followers and 15 million Instagram followers. Lots of people who, you recognize, is perhaps taking note of what I’ve to say and what I feel. And so I needed to amplify, you recognize, all of the issues I used to be studying, amplify the voices that I used to be listening to from and exit and inform folks about it in order that the general public may perceive what we had been doing as a rustic. And each time our authorities is doing one thing, they’re doing it both tacitly or explicitly with our approval and with our tax {dollars} and with our votes. And so I needed the American folks to know extra about what our authorities was doing beneath our identify. And I do not assume lots of people even knew that we had been probably the most incarcerated nation on the earth. I stated it on the Oscar stage after I bought the award with Frequent for “Glory” for Finest Authentic Music. I stated we had been probably the most incarcerated nation on the earth, and most of the people had been like, “Is he telling the reality? Is that true?” I bought truth checked, I feel by Washington Put up or one of many truth checkers. However yeah, that is true. That could be a truth.

Yeah, no, that could be a truth.

And so I and others have actually taken upon ourselves to teach the general public about what we’re doing after which assist us think about a greater approach of fixing these points.

We will take a brief break and we’ll be proper again with extra of The Axe Information… And now again to the present. Let me ask you about these D.A. races that you’ve got been concerned in and in addition the final dialogue about budgets, about policing. As a result of I really feel like, nicely, you recognize, it should be a really very long time earlier than we get our arms round what this virus did to us. However we have seen, you recognize, an eruption of crime. And there is been form of a backlash as a result of folks need to really feel protected. And that is not— that is folks within the poor communities and different communities. And so this entire concept of other sentencing and so forth has run into plenty of opposition. And these D.As, who you have helped elect, I imply, we simply noticed Chesa Boudin in San Francisco lose round these points, however actually as a response to crime. So inform me the place you assume we’re on this and the way do you reply to individuals who say, nicely, hey, you recognize, I do not need to let an entire bunch of individuals out as a result of I do not really feel protected.

I perceive. To start with, all people deserves to really feel protected. And after I say all people, I imply all people. I imply of us who encounter the police, of us who’re caught up within the system indirectly, but in addition the broader group, their households, their neighbors. All people deserves to really feel protected. And there is a position for policing to play in that. There is a position for the prison justice system to play in that. However I feel we additionally want to appreciate that we have now to make different investments in security to make our communities actually safer. Meaning specializing in psychological well being. Meaning specializing in drug dependancy. Meaning specializing in homelessness. Meaning realizing that incarceration would not resolve all of our issues. We’re already probably the most incarcerated nation on the earth. If that had been the important thing to us being the most secure nation on the earth, then we might already be that. However we even have a gun drawback the place we’re probably the most armed nation on the earth. We even have psychological well being crises in so many communities. We’ve got drug dependancy crises. So all these different issues are taking place. After which notably in locations like San Francisco, we have now an reasonably priced housing disaster. And so plenty of occasions the difficulty of security and crime has been conflated with, oh, I see a bunch of individuals on the streets in my group, and I perceive why that makes folks really feel much less protected. However the answer to make us all really feel safer actually can be, nicely, how do we discover reasonably priced housing for all these of us so they don’t seem to be residing in a state of chaos? And what we have discovered is that when individuals are homeless, it truly exacerbates the opposite points that we’re nervous about. It exacerbates drug dependancy. It exacerbates any psychological well being crises that they are coping with. So if we had been to assault the foundation of that, it could be, nicely, how do we discover extra reasonably priced housing for these of us? And belief me, it prices some huge cash to incarcerate these of us. It will be cheaper to seek out reasonably priced housing for these of us. After which I feel it is also necessary to ensure we’re coping with details and never the form of exaggerations of individuals with an agenda. And one of many issues that is been a fear is that whereas crime has gone up throughout the pandemic, plenty of it has been exaggerated by folks with an agenda who’re anti the reforms that we have fought for. So there are of us with an agenda to incarcerate extra folks, to form of assault any makes an attempt at accountability for the police and another actors in our system. And so a few of these of us have dramatically exaggerated the uptick in crime whereas there’s some crimes have gone up. I noticed a chart just lately about shootings in New York. They have not gone up dramatically, however the press protection of them had gone up dramatically. And so we want to ensure we’re coping with details and we have to be sure that our journalists are telling the reality and ensuring they don’t seem to be simply repeating propaganda by folks with an curiosity within the consequence and an curiosity within the funding determination. And both approach, folks should really feel protected. And there was an uptick in crime throughout the pandemic. And we want to ensure we are attempting to resolve these issues by attacking the roots of these issues and never simply considering we will incarcerate our method to security in our communities, as a result of we have been doing incarceration. We have been doing very nicely in incarcerating folks, however we’re not fixing all these issues. So we have to assume extra creatively about tips on how to put money into our communities to forestall a few of these crimes from taking place. Make all of our folks really feel safer, but in addition give them locations to stay, give them alternatives to work. And in the event that they’re having psychological well being crises or drug dependancy crises, giving them assist.

You had been sad otherwise you expressed unhappiness when the president stated that he needed native communities to make use of among the among the Rescue Act cash that is remaining to extend the hiring of police and I presume that is why you assume that a few of these sources are higher spent on different priorities.

My view of that’s principally we fund police at a really important stage. I imagine our police funding outstrips the funding of nearly each different nation’s army funding on the earth apart from, I feel China and possibly a few different international locations. So we spend some huge cash on police. So once more, if we may police and incarcerate our method to security, we might have already accomplished it. So the query is, is there any higher use for that enjoyable than placing it in policing? And, you recognize, folks bought upset about “defund” and the way, you recognize, they thought it was a catastrophe as a political slogan. However the truth is, it makes you truly take note of funding. And the actual fact is, we proceed to fund and proceed to fund, it doesn’t matter what occurs, whether or not crime goes up or goes down. We proceed to fund the police. And the query is, would any of these funds be higher spent doing different issues? And we all the time complain about we do not have the cash for this. We do not have the cash for that. We do not have cash to assist the poor. We do not have cash for housing, however we all the time have cash for jails, prisons and policing. So my admonition to the nation is, let’s take into consideration these priorities and determine that there are higher methods to spend this cash generally than extra jails, prisons and police.

However simply as a political matter wasn’t defund police, did not that develop into form of a cudgel for opponents.

It did, however is not every thing a cudgel? To start with, no Democrats ran on defund. No, you recognize main nationwide Democrats. Joe Biden did not. Nearly no Home members ran on it. Nearly no Senate members ran on it. It was actually simply an activist slogan, folks on the left who’re activists responding to George Floyd’s homicide. So though no Democratic politicians ran on it, they had been saddled with it anyway. So it goes to indicate you that it would not matter to some extent, these far proper forces and the established order forces, established order defenders are going accountable Democrats, going accountable no matter slogan they will each time they need to. And so they’re not going to let the reality be any form of barrier for them in going after them. And never solely did Joe Biden not defund the police, he funded them much more than they had been funded earlier than. And if anybody remains to be blaming him for an activist slogan, then, you recognize, they don’t seem to be doing it with any form of sincerity or honesty. They’re being disingenuous. And I do not understand how you struggle that as a result of it is not true. Like they’re accusing him of one thing that is simply not true.

I need to simply swap topics for a second. You and your spouse, Chrissy Teigen, who’s well-known as nicely, have two youngsters. And also you had a 3rd youngster and also you misplaced that youngster throughout the being pregnant. And he or she’s written and talked about how devastating that was to all of you. We’ve got this debate happening now concerning the Dobbs determination overturning Roe. And I am questioning how your expertise of getting misplaced that youngster performs into as a result of there’s this notion that by some means individuals are making informal selections.

Yeah. And, you recognize, anybody who’s handled being pregnant is aware of none of that is informal. None of that is is frivolous. And it is so intimate and it is so private. How do we would like our governors and our legislators, most of whom are males on this room with a health care provider and with this one who’s coping with their being pregnant? Why do we would like our authorities concerned in these selections? Somebody made a considerably humorous business just lately. I assumed it might need been virtually too tongue in cheek about it, however they had been basically saying, you recognize, would you like Governor Abbott within the room serving to you determine what to do along with your being pregnant and— no! And having gone by that state of affairs with my spouse, basically anybody who would have a miscarriage must be investigated. When you determine they weren’t allowed to have an abortion, then anybody who had a miscarriage in any case of that trauma, in any case of that ache, in any case these tears we went by to then have the native D.A. or a neighborhood legislation enforcement do an investigation and ensure the miscarriage was permitted by the state and never only a common run of the mill abortion. To have the federal government determine whether or not or not the lifetime of the mom was sufficiently at risk for them to make this intimate determination that they make between themselves and their physician, to have the federal government concerned in that dialog in any approach is so offensive to me. It is nasty. It is evil. It shouldn’t be even a dialogue. The federal government shouldn’t be concerned. And I imagine, you recognize, I perceive folks which might be like, nicely, what about after six months? What about after eight months? However if you happen to noticed Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who’s now Secretary Pete, I feel he had an amazing response to that. And he was saying principally, anybody who will get to that stage of a being pregnant, they needed to have the infant. They normally have a reputation for the infant.

Received the room arrange. Yeah.

Yeah, they’ve a room arrange. We had a reputation for Jack. We had been about 5 or 6 months in. Anybody who makes that gut-wrenching determination at that time within the being pregnant, they’re solely doing it as a result of they’ve a severe purpose to do it, whether or not it is the well being of the mom or the well being of the kid. And so they do not need to do it. They needed to maintain that child. Why would we have now the federal government are available in and do a postmortem to ensure it was authorized? It is insane. I feel the federal government ought to come fully be out of the abortion dialog. I do not care about six months, three months, eight months. It ought to be between the one who’s pregnant and their physician, their household, if they need them to be concerned.

This has been pushed, clearly, by not solely, however by the evangelical motion. You are an individual of religion. How do you course of that and the way you concentrate on that and the position that they’ve performed in our politics and conservative voices inside your individual, inside your individual church group?

Properly, I am not an energetic church member anymore, so I do not need to say that I’m part of a specific church group, however I grew up in a Black pentecostal church. However we additionally had plenty of interactions with White evangelical church buildings in my group. And in reality, I went to a Christian college for 2 years that was run by an evangelical church in my group, a White evangelical church in my group. And so I am very accustomed to, you recognize, the group with the tradition of the White evangelical church. And we have now to be clear that that could be a political motion as a lot as it is a spiritual motion. And in plenty of methods, it is a racial motion simply as a lot as it is a spiritual motion. So we are able to by no means exclude White from our descriptive dialog concerning the evangelical church. As a result of the White and the evangelical are doing plenty of work in that dialog. So a part of the rationale for the conservatism in that group is a racial conservatism. They have been in opposition to plenty of the advances for Black and Brown folks in our nation, however they’ve additionally been in opposition to advances for girls in our nation. They have been in opposition to advances for the LGBTQ group in our nation. So that they’ve in a number of methods stood in opposition to progress in our nation. And I simply disagree with them. I disagree with them on a number of ranges. And I do not imagine that they need to be capable of use their religion as a approach of imposing their beliefs on the remainder of the nation. We had been judiciously and properly by our founders devised as a nation the place the federal government did not root for any specific faith, that the federal government did not attempt to set up any specific church or any specific denomination or any specific faith. And we should not let the spiritual views of some dictate the behaviors of the whole nation.

You stated when Donald Trump was elected that you simply thought that it was a backlash to the Obama years?

And the place do you assume we at the moment are?

I feel we’re within the midst of one other backlash. And I feel plenty of that crime dialog has been a giant manifestation of the backlash. So, you recognize, after George Floyd, there was a so-called reckoning the place everybody, you recognize, modified their social media avatars and and plenty of corporations put out statements and lots of people employed DEI officers and all these different issues. After which we had, you recognize, plenty of conversations round this nation’s historical past of racism. After which plenty of of us had been upset that that dialog occurred, that it made sure of us really feel responsible about what their ancestors did or what their forefathers and moms did. And we have seen an enormous backlash not solely within the crime dialog, however we have seen it with all this nonsense about CRT, the entire removing of books and gadgets from the curriculum in plenty of states and communities. We have seen severe backlash on a number of ranges to the so-called racial reckoning. And I feel we’re nonetheless experiencing that backlash proper now.

And what’s the pathway ahead, do you assume? You supported, I do know, Elizabeth Warren for president in 2020?

I feel the pathway ahead is us realizing that the truth that we’re of various races is our power as a nation, the truth that we’re a various nation the place of us come from all around the world to attempt to stay the American dream is a power of our nation, it is not a weak spot. It makes us higher. And if we’re in a position to see one another, respect one another, acknowledge the truth that we could also be totally different in some methods, however take a look at that as a power after which govern ourselves accordingly. We are able to develop into a greater nation. My good friend Heather McGhee wrote an amazing guide referred to as “The Sum of Us,” the place she talked a lot about how us having racial resentment maintain the nation again has price all people. And her metaphor all through the guide, after all, is the general public pool. So slightly than desegregating the general public pool in plenty of these communities, they only removed the pool. So this public good that was benefiting every kind of parents and that will have been accessible to everybody as soon as it needed to be desegregated. They might slightly do away with it in order that they did not have it, than make or not it’s accessible to everybody. So I feel that form of mentality, that zero sum mentality the place we’re competing in opposition to different races and never considering we are able to all succeed collectively and develop collectively, that is what’s holding us again. And the one approach we get by it’s if we see one another, love one another, care about one another, empathize with one another, and determine that we’re higher off once we work collectively to make our communities safer and stronger and more healthy. And, you recognize, that is the form of work that I have been making an attempt to do across the nation.

All people who’s listened to this may have the identical query. So I’ve bought to ask it. Means again when, if you had been musing about your future, I feel there was some musing additionally about enjoying a management position past music, operating for workplace, maybe president, maybe one thing else. You are a strong advocate. Do you ever take into consideration that? Do you ever take into consideration, hey, possibly I ought to step away from the piano for some time.

I don’t need to run for workplace. I undoubtedly do not need to do it now. I do not envision myself eager to do it sooner or later. I did after I was a child. I did need to be president and I needed to be a couple of issues.

Now you recognize what it is like and also you assume possibly not.

Precisely, I do know sufficient folks to have been president, one particularly, that I am good. I do not want that in my life. You already know, I like what I do. I like my day job. However I additionally love the work we do politically and philanthropically. And I really feel like I will make a huge impact by the work that I am doing and. I like the best way that I am doing it now and I do not need to run for workplace. A part of it might be simply my very own selfishness and self-importance. Like, I like the truth that half the nation is not rooting for my failure daily proper now. And I do not look ahead to the concept of half of my nation rooting for me to fail and trying to destroy me. I respect anybody who’s keen to place themselves and their household by that, however I simply do not need to do it.

I am going to inform you, John, I do not find out about them rooting in opposition to you to fail, however I would not guess in opposition to you to fail based mostly in your unimaginable life and story. And thanks for all of the contributions you have made.

Thanks, David. It is such a pleasure speaking with you. And it is actually been a pleasure. And I really feel like hopefully folks can be taught from my story and have interaction with among the issues we talked about right this moment. And we are able to all develop collectively.

Let’s hope. Thanks. Nice to be with you.

All proper, David, take care.

Earlier than we log out a phrase concerning the workforce that makes this podcast potential. You already know, I am the genial entrance man, however I rely every week on the beautiful analysis of Miriam Annenberg, the technical help of engineer Jeff Fox and producer editor Hannah McDonald and Megan Marcus, and the luxurious crew at CNN Audio. And I need to provide a particular due to my intrepid govt producer and proper hand Allyson Siegal. Sensible, insightful and delicate, her partnership and counsel has meant extra to me than I may ever adequately categorical. Lastly, due to all of you, our listeners, for taking these journeys of discovery with me every week. I look ahead to sharing extra of them within the months and years to return. And possibly we’ll even hit a thousand.


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