Legend Challenges Young People to Carry on Work of MLK, Follows by Playing Piano and Singing Audience Favorites

By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Graduate Assistant

John Legend kept a crowd of more than a thousand spellbound by his words and his music during the 25th anniversary of the Realizing the Dream concert.
John Legend kept a crowd of more than a thousand spellbound by his words and his music during the 25th anniversary of the Realizing the Dream concert.

On Sunday, January 19, the eve of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s national holiday, more than 1,000 people, many of them University of Alabama students, filled the Frank M. Moody Music Building to hear a lecture and the music of Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter/humanitarian John Legend.

“I’m especially honored and humbled to be here to celebrate one of my personal heroes,” Legend said, acknowledging his amazement that so many people would come out to see him in “football country,” when there was an NFL playoff game on television.

“We take this time every year to recognize his incredible work, the spirit of his work and the impact of his work and think about how we can live our lives in a way that honors his legacy,” Legend said. “We know that you young people are next in line to carry on his work. Now I know that might sound like a daunting task, but I think you’re up to it.” Legend speaks at colleges and universities around the world and is always impressed about the readiness of students to take on the world’s challenges.

“We’re here today to talk about something bigger than ourselves individually. We’re going to think about how we build a better community and build a better world,” Legend said. “We also have a piano here, so maybe I’ll sing a little bit after I’m done.”

Before he was done talking he had admonished students to realize that being in college is a gift not to be taken lightly.

“It is expensive and it is difficult. Many of you overcame significant obstacles just to be here today,” Legend said, recalling his own college career and how few of those in his freshman class ended up in his graduating class. “The reason why you’re here is so you can become a better thinker. You gain the ability to think critically, to question the status quo, to challenge yourself and to challenge the ideas that you hear from other people.”

John Legend performs a crowd favorite during the Realizing the Dream Concert.
John Legend performs a crowd favorite during the Realizing the Dream Concert.

Although King was an activist and a revolutionary, Legend acknowledged that King had to be aided by bold politicians like President Lyndon B. Johnson to make these changes law.

Legend called education inequality today’s civil rights issue.

As the salutatorian of his high school class in Springfield, Ohio, Legend said he realizes that had he not received his education at the University of Pennsylvania, where he released his first album, his life would have turned out differently.

“One of the greatest things about an education is that it gives you control over your own destiny,” Legend said, stressing how hard it is for poor children to get a quality high school education and that for many of them a college education is out of reach. “It remains a gift to some, when it should be a right to all. These statistics are a call to action.”

He challenged today’s college students to get involved as activists and politicians and as community leaders. He told them to look at their resources and extra curricular activities and see if they could use their extra money and time to make a difference in the would around them.


This self-examination led Legend to support organizations like Teach for America and to start The Show Me Campaign. Founded in 2007, Show Me, works to break the cycle of poverty by supporting the help to provide every child with a quality education, spreading awareness about the issues and inspiring citizens to take action.

“As we celebrate Dr. King’s Legacy I’m here to motivate you to make a difference,” Legend said. “We have to talk about the problem so we can talk about the solution.”

Legend mentioned not only education, but also mass incarceration of our young men and the plight of the working class.

“When you are fighting for something important it will not always be popular in the beginning,” Legend said reflecting on King’s life and the hurdles he had to overcome. “There is so much opportunity for you to make changes.”

Legend entertained the crowd with his music, beginning with a cover of “Wake Up Everybody,” a song that focuses on social activism and education. “When you teach children, teach them the very best you can,” he sang. “When you teach the children, teach ’em the very best you can. The world won’t get no better if we just let it be, na, na, na. The world won’t get no better, we gotta change it, yeah. Just you and me.”

In addition, he preformed crowd favorites, such as “Tonight” and “Save Room.” The crowd applauded enthusiastically and often and several attendees said the University made a good decision to bring Legend to campus for the Realizing the Dream celebration.