August 14, 2022

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Ep. 500 — John Legend – The Axe Information with David Axelrod

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

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

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

Oh, wow. That’s 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’ll discuss to you later about how John Stephens turned John Legend.

However I need to discuss 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 loss of life after which moved to Ohio, which is the place I used to be born and raised. Moved to Ohio, however a number of the surviving family of the enslaver wished to principally deliver them again into slavery. And there was a whole 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 capable of win our household’s freedom and the suitable 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 large a part of your upbringing. Discuss to me about what the church meant to you as a baby.

Effectively, my household principally ran the church. So after I thought in regards to 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 faculty and sang within the church choir and performed the drums as properly. So all of us had been very concerned in working the church as a household. And I spent a whole lot of my time there as a child. And in relation to music, that’s actually the place I received 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 also you’ll hear that story rather a lot, significantly with Black musicians singing R&B and soul music, that a whole lot of our roots are from gospel music, and we develop our chops by enjoying and singing in church. And I’m actually a kind of of us.

That affect remains to be — you may hear that affect in your music.

Completely. It’s right here and it’s 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 at college. I’d do it at church. I’d do it at recitals for my piano trainer. And both means, I loved being on stage. I beloved the connection I felt with individuals. I beloved the suggestions I received from individuals. And I beloved being artistic. I beloved arising with a efficiency and arising with songs ultimately that I began writing after I was slightly bit older as a child, however I beloved all of that and I wished to do it for a residing. And after I was a child, that meant, you recognize, I wished 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 slightly bit older, however I used to be in faculty and after which in my early twenties after I began to determine my sound and the way I wished to sound if I got here out with a document, and that every one began taking place over these years. Nevertheless it 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’s proper. So I grew up in that household. And you’ll assume, you recognize, every little 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, significantly it rocked my mom as a result of that was her mom. And he or she turned depressed and ultimately disconnected from the household, from my father significantly, however from all of us. After which as soon as they received divorced, she type of was primarily residing within the streets, hooked on medication and self-medicating and type of disconnecting from us as a household. And we misplaced her for a couple of decade. She recovered. And ultimately my dad and mom received remarried and all these items occurred. And he or she’s residing a really wholesome life now and is a superb mom and a terrific grandmother. However for these ten years, we barely noticed her.

How previous 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 faculty 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 previous and highschool after I’m 12. And all of that occurred with my mother’s assist and preparation. However then she disappeared primarily for a couple of decade.

How does an 11 yr previous cope with that?

Effectively it’s 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 children. After which we had numerous family that lived close by. My uncles, my aunts, my cousins. And, you recognize — Hillary wrote that ebook, “It Takes a Village.” And that’s, you recognize, based mostly on a, I feel an African proverb. Nevertheless it does take a village particularly when one of many dad and mom is lacking and also you want that additional assist. 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 lecturers, individuals simply all pitched in and helped us. And a part of it, I feel individuals noticed a whole lot of potential in me. I used to be a straight-A scholar and often close to the highest of my class, and lots of people wished to guarantee that that potential wasn’t wasted. And they also took explicit care to, you recognize, make investments their time and vitality into ensuring I didn’t slip by the cracks. And so I’m grateful for these individuals in my life.

However there’s no substitute for a mother.

There’s no substitute for a mother. And it was robust for us. , I feel a part of the way in which I coped with it, actually, was by music. It was by discovering different shops and discovering methods to attach with individuals by music. And a part of it was I simply wished to remain busy in order that I didn’t need to go residence and, you recognize, type of take into consideration the truth that we didn’t have our mother there. And I prevented her for some time as a result of she simply seemed unhealthy. She was addicted on the time and it was a tricky time to see her. And so I type of prevented seeing her and simply threw myself into music and faculty and all the opposite distractions that I might discover.

, I learn someplace you saying that you just’re not an emotional particular person, that you just’re not likely demonstrative.

Which is so hanging to me as a result of your music is so evocative and connecting. And it type of received 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 completely different locations. And mentioned, 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 strategy to categorical your self so that you don’t have to precise your self in different methods.

Yeah, you recognize, I feel lots of people who’re good on stage are additionally actually shy in particular person and and guarded in particular person. And I used to be very guarded and reserved and shy and like I mentioned, I used to be a few years youthful than everybody, too. And in order that type 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 might categorical myself totally. And I feel it’s therapeutic to have the ability to do 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 turned extra social after I was capable of introduce myself to individuals on stage by music.

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

So that you discuss your mother self-medicating and also you’ve spent a whole lot of your life, your grownup life, addressing points like legal 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 individuals once they have psychological well being points or drug associated points and get handled as in the event that they’re criminals?

Effectively, you recognize, what’s attention-grabbing is typically, significantly if you’re youthful, you don’t see the macro view of issues. You’re 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 little thing by the lens of particular person accountability. You’re considering, properly, my mom made errors. She coped together with her trauma and her tragedy within the improper means, and this brought about penalties for her. After which I had a number of buddies, you recognize, who received in bother with the regulation. , a few of them had been hustling, they had been drug dealing. They had been concerned in conditions they shouldn’t have been in. And so after I’m youthful, I’m simply considering of these people and the errors that they made and there being type of nearly like an computerized punishment for these errors within the regulation. However I’m not desirous 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 essentially the most incarcerated nation on this planet. So I noticed the micro view of the person making a foul alternative, however I didn’t assume in any respect after I was a child in regards to the macro selections that had been made to make us essentially the most incarcerated nation on this planet. To make us, you recognize, pursue the conflict on medication. To make us pursue these tough-on-crime insurance policies that lock up, you recognize, thousands and thousands of individuals yearly in America. And so it took me getting older after which studying extra in regards to the macro aspect of issues, studying, you recognize, Michelle Alexander’s ebook, “The New Jim Crow” studying Bryan Stevenson’s work and studying others’ work in regards to the system that we’ve created by coverage selections over the previous few a long time that dramatically accelerated incarceration and made incarceration the go-to resolution 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 particular person, I used to be capable of relate my mother’s particular person trauma and wrestle to all these different thousands and 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 nearly with the identical resolution on a regular basis, which is lock increasingly more individuals 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.

Somewhat than an sickness. And that leads us to horrible coverage selections. I need to come again to what you’re particularly doing in a couple of minutes, however I don’t need to lose the thread of your story as a result of it’s too good to not comply with that thread. So that you go to school 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 everyone.

Youthful than everyone. I’m poorer than everyone, just about coming from a small city when many of the children got here from both large cities or suburbs and main metropolises. And, you recognize, I simply felt misplaced in a whole lot of methods. However once more, music was my connector. I began singing in an a cappella group there, made a whole lot of buddies that means, and simply related to a whole lot of different individuals by music. I began working at a church up in Scranton as properly, 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’re a child. You’re a youngster.

I performed and sang loads rising up in Ohio, performed in church loads. And one in every of our household buddies knew a pastor in Scranton, Pennsylvania, who was in search of 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 come back 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.

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I imply, one of many issues that’s one other throughline in your story is you’re at all times ridiculously busy.

I imply, as a result of Penn isn’t a simple faculty.

It’s not simple. And, you recognize, I used to be doing my predominant, you recognize, actions had been truly going to high school. I additionally had a work-study job at Upward Certain, which is a type of a pre-college program for underrepresented and first era 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 just a few 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 predominant issues in my life and I didn’t sleep sufficient. I used to be at all times sleepy, sleepy, driving to Scranton, sleeping at school. I at all times inform individuals I used to be busier then than I’m now, for positive. Regardless that I’ve a household and a fairly demanding profession. I received much less sleep then and labored extra again then in faculty than I do now.

Effectively, you need to have been awake at school lengthy sufficient or sufficient since you— this type of blew my thoughts that you just 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 wished to do music, however I wanted a job. And most of my buddies had been making use of to those corporations, you recognize, the banks and the consulting corporations. I didn’t go to Wharton, however Wharton is correct there on our campus. And so we had been a giant feeder faculty into a whole lot of these large corporations. And, you recognize, these had been the celebrated jobs that had been accessible. And I didn’t even take into account that type of work. I don’t even know what they did. I didn’t know anybody who did it till I began to know alumni, you recognize, who had been like a yr or two forward of me, who had been, you recognize, coming again to campus to recruit. And one in every of my buddies, her identify was Kenna, she got here again to Penn to recruit. She had labored at BCG on the time, and she or he had this occasion she was part of the place alumni will come again and communicate to Black and Brown college students about these careers that had been accessible to them. And I sat subsequent to her and she or he advised me all in regards to the work she was doing and it sounded attention-grabbing. So I utilized to BCG and some different corporations. I received interviews with BCG and McKinsey, however I didn’t get a suggestion at McKinsey. I received one at BCG and it was for 50 grand a yr, 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 larger than 50 grand a yr, and that was the primary wage that I used to be supplied popping out of school. And I used to be like, properly, I received to take this job. So I graduate, begin working at this consulting agency and I determine I’m going to get a document deal inside a yr or two and I can stop this job. By that time, I had already performed on “Every part Is Every part” on Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation album. I did that whereas I used to be nonetheless at college, and I used to be beginning to work with completely different producers and writers and and recording a demo whereas I used to be nonetheless in class. And so I figured my large break was going to be proper across the nook. Nevertheless it took 5 years from after I graduated from faculty to after I received a document 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 should have been absorbing.

It was, it was a whole lot of time and vitality, however I discovered time to write down songs, I discovered time to attach with individuals. And you recognize, that first yr 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, and so they allowed that. And it is a time when the Web increase was taking place, that first one, close to the top 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’d 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, good individuals. And so our consulting agency was beginning to lose individuals to that. And so—

Yeah, that was a great time to ask for a favor. So I’m like, properly, 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 might work all day after which I’d play gigs in New York. I’d simply meet completely different individuals within the trade. I met Kanye throughout that point.

Yeah, which turned a formative relationship.

Sure, in fact. So I, one in every of my roommates from faculty 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 finally labored on a whole lot of his early recordings and he labored on a whole lot of mine. My demo ultimately turned my debut album, Get Lifted, and his demo ultimately turned School Dropout, all of which we labored on collectively.

Yeah, as a result of it’s attention-grabbing that you just guys each had been in form of the identical place. You each had been very, very proficient younger guys. Simply looking for a strategy 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 arising collectively. However he was able to essentially assist me as a producer, and he started to have increasingly more connections within the enterprise. So ultimately I signed to his manufacturing firm as type 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’re going to 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’re buddies nonetheless, however he’s, you recognize, his habits and his politics, I suppose, his politics are a lot completely different or have been a lot completely different than yours.

Effectively, you recognize, we aren’t buddies as a lot as we was, as a result of I actually assume as a result of we publicly disagreed on his working for workplace, his supporting Trump, I feel it turned an excessive amount of for us to maintain our friendship, actually. He was upset that I didn’t assist his run for presidency of america of America for comprehensible causes.

You weren’t alone in that, by the way in which.

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

What don’t individuals perceive about him?

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

Initially, you had nice success proper out of the bat. You bought a rap stuffed 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?

Effectively, you recognize, it’s attention-grabbing as a result of again to Kanye being with him when it occurred for him, simply, you recognize, like a yr or so earlier than it occurred for me, that was truly helpful for me as a result of it was it was nearly like an apprenticeship the place I received to see every little thing that was going to occur to me like a yr upfront. And it helped me, I feel, mentally put together for it and know how one can transfer in that world earlier than I used to be the main target of consideration.

In 2006 you took a really public place in regards to the conflict in Iraq.

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

Probably. I don’t keep in mind them being that nervous. They didn’t actually discuss to me about being nervous. And, you recognize, earlier than the conflict even occurred, I used to be marching on the streets of New York once we had that massive protest as we had been, you recognize, as you can inform, the Bush administration was drumming up assist for the conflict. 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 wished to do. And so they had been making an attempt to drum up intelligence assist for one thing that clearly they simply determined they wished to do. Clearly, Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11, and the case for him having WMDs was, you recognize, weak at greatest. And it simply appeared like they had been promoting us a invoice of products that, you recognize, I didn’t imagine it, and I do know your former boss didn’t imagine it both.

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

Yeah, modified American historical past that he made that speech. However, yeah, I used to be a kind of people who simply didn’t imagine it from the start, I marched to protest towards it from the start. And I didn’t imagine in it after it occurred. And I believed 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 nearly as he did once we talked about him making that speech again in 2006. However or I suppose 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 particular person on the road marching. Ultimately, you recognize, as we had gone to conflict and and so they had been nonetheless speaking about surges and all these different issues, I used to be nonetheless towards the conflict, however the unique protests had been earlier than anyone knew who I used to be.

And did you at all times have these sensibilities, these political sensibilities? Did you pay a whole lot of consideration?

Effectively, I grew up very impressed by civil rights leaders, so I’d examine them. , I used to be residence schooled for fairly just a few years in my youth, and we might go to the county library and my dad and mom would allow us to select no matter we wished to examine. And I’d at all times gravitate in the direction of studying about Black individuals who fought for our rights in America. I used to be at all times impressed by them, at all times happy with the work that they did for our individuals. And in order that was my actual introduction to politics was by the inspiration that civil rights heroes delivered to me, together with Dr. King, however others as properly. And in order that was my first sense of political engagement and consciousness, was desirous about it by the lens of justice and equality and the rights of Black People to be full residents on this nation.

I ought to level out one in every of his final initiatives, as you recognize, was his opposition to the conflict in Vietnam.

Completely. The conflict in Vietnam, fought to finish poverty, fought to arrange employees. , these are issues that he centered on along with preventing for Black individuals to have the suitable to vote and desegregation and all these different issues.

You’ve mentioned that you just cried the evening that Barack Obama received elected president if you had been watching the protection from Grant Park down the highway right here. However earlier you mentioned, you recognize, I’m not one who’s demonstrative.

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

Effectively, I believed in regards to the historical past, and the the second that broke me was watching the older Black People 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 considered every little thing that he had been by in his life, together with being there when Dr. King was killed.

And that’s what broke me, was watching individuals like him crying and desirous about all that they’d seen in America and possibly by no means believed that this second would have arrived. That was essentially the most shifting factor about that. After which, in fact, the truth that we had been capable of be a part of it and assist, you recognize, encourage the nation, encourage younger individuals to exit and vote and vote for him. I used to be proud and honored to be a part of it. However really, what broke me and made me cry was desirous 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 grow to be president. And ultimately they received 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 oldsters.

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You had been a giant and an articulate supporter of his highly effective advocate for him. I need to ask you in regards to the function of celebrities in politics. It strikes me that you’re, there are completely 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 could have two issues occurring directly in your life. One is you’re investing of your self in your music, clearly, and in your artistic aspect. You’ve a movie firm now named after your first album, however you’re additionally somebody who is not only talking, however organizing. Inform me about what drew you to being far more energetic than merely lending your identify.

Effectively, like I mentioned, these are points have cared about for a very long time and considered them for a very long time. I even wrote an essay after I was 15.

Yeah. For a McDonald’s competitors known as Future Black Historical past Makers, the place you needed to discuss how you propose to make Black historical past. And I mentioned I used to be going to grow to be a well-known musician and I used to be going to make use of that success to attempt to make the world higher, and significantly to battle for the rights of my individuals and my group.

And also you don’t need to mislead McDonald’s, you recognize that.

You don’t need to mislead McDonald’s of all individuals. 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’m doing in my life proper now. However I feel I’ve grown over time in understanding how one can use my celeb and how one can use the ability 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 these days, I’ve 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 spend money on the suitable issues to make us all more healthy. So I’ve been keen on 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’ve been actually constructing, we’ve been elevating cash, we’ve 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 just a few completely different initiatives and we discuss to a whole lot of completely different activists and become involved in a whole lot of completely different native and state fights and nationwide fights when mandatory. However a few of it’s by desirous about the function of the district legal professional and the way we could be impactful in races for district legal professional in communities. A few of it’s 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 individuals a yr and redirected the funds that we might have spent on these issues to group constructing actions. So we’ve gotten concerned in state and native fights primarily as a result of that’s actually what our legal justice system is about. It’s a bunch of legal justice programs in a bunch of locations, whether or not they’re counties, cities, states. That’s the place a whole lot of the choices are made that influence individuals’s lives. And the overwhelming majority of our incarcerated persons 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 against the law, however they will’t afford to get out as a result of they will’t afford the money bail that’s been assigned to them. So we began FREEAMERICA after which we began Human Stage, which works with another former Obama alums from FUSE Corps. And that’s all about native authorities and the function that native governments play in individuals’s lives, significantly in desirous about structural racism, whether or not it’s housing or environmental or the legal justice system. And total, I discuss loads about budgets and the influence that budgets have on individuals’s lives. And it’s been mentioned that budgets are ethical paperwork. And primarily what we’re saying is within the budgeting course of, within the useful resource allocation course of, let’s have individuals within the room who’re desirous about the group, desirous about the marginalized individuals who have typically 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 the town authorities to be within the communities and attempt to make change inside the room when the choices are being made about useful resource allocation and how one can execute the legal guidelines of that group in a means that’s actually truthful. And only for all of the group members.

You journey the nation loads, having a whole lot of conversations. It’s not nearly elevating cash. Discuss to me about that.

The very first thing we did once we began FREEAMERICA was do a listening and studying marketing campaign, nearly like a politician would do. , 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 in every of her constituents on the time. And he or she did a listening tour across the state, you recognize, and a whole lot of instances persons are type of cynical about these issues. However I actually assume she realized loads in that course of and she or he turned a greater candidate for it.

John, let me simply interrupt you and let you know that Barack Obama working 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’d like them to pay attention and take note of what individuals care about.

So long as they’re listening, yeah.

Yeah, concentrate. After which truly, you recognize, govern as if they’ve paid consideration. However anyway, we did the same 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 legal 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 a whole lot of previously incarcerated people who find themselves typically the main activists in relation to 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 battle 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 individuals elected, which I’ve to type of separate from the nonprofit wing of my life, however I nonetheless personally become involved. After which a whole lot 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, could be taking note of what I’ve to say and what I feel. And so I wished 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 individuals about it in order that the general public might perceive what we had been doing as a rustic. And at any time when 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 wished the American individuals to know extra about what our authorities was doing underneath our identify. And I don’t assume lots of people even knew that we had been essentially the most incarcerated nation on this planet. I mentioned it on the Oscar stage after I received the award with Frequent for “Glory” for Finest Unique Music. I mentioned we had been essentially the most incarcerated nation on this planet, and most of the people had been like, “Is he telling the reality? Is that true?” I received truth checked, I feel by Washington Put up or one of many truth checkers. However yeah, that’s true. That may be a truth.

Yeah, no, that may 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 means of fixing these points.

We’re going to 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 just’ve been concerned in and in addition the overall dialogue about budgets, about policing. As a result of I really feel like, properly, you recognize, it’s going to be a really very long time earlier than we get our arms round what this virus did to us. However we’ve seen, you recognize, an eruption of crime. And there’s been form of a backlash as a result of individuals need to really feel secure. And that’s not— that’s individuals within the poor communities and different communities. And so this complete concept of different sentencing and so forth has run into a whole lot of opposition. And these D.As, who you’ve 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, properly, hey, you recognize, I don’t need to let an entire bunch of individuals out as a result of I don’t really feel secure.

I perceive. Initially, everyone deserves to really feel secure. And after I say everyone, I imply everyone. 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. Everyone deserves to really feel secure. And there’s a task for policing to play in that. There’s a task for the legal justice system to play in that. However I feel we additionally want to comprehend that now we have to make different investments in security to make our communities really safer. Which means specializing in psychological well being. Which means specializing in drug dependancy. Which means specializing in homelessness. Which means realizing that incarceration doesn’t resolve all of our issues. We’re already essentially the most incarcerated nation on this planet. If that had been the important thing to us being the most secure nation on this planet, then we might already be that. However we even have a gun downside the place we’re essentially the most armed nation on this planet. We even have psychological well being crises in so many communities. Now we have drug dependancy crises. So all these different issues are taking place. After which significantly in locations like San Francisco, now we have an reasonably priced housing disaster. And so a whole lot of instances the problem 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 individuals really feel much less secure. However the resolution to make us all really feel safer actually can be, properly, how do we discover reasonably priced housing for all these of us so that they’re not residing in a state of chaos? And what we’ve discovered is that when persons are homeless, it truly exacerbates the opposite points that we’re fearful about. It exacerbates drug dependancy. It exacerbates any psychological well being crises that they’re coping with. So if we had been to assault the foundation of that, it could be, properly, 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’ll be cheaper to seek out reasonably priced housing for these of us. After which I feel it’s additionally necessary to verify we’re coping with information and never the type of exaggerations of individuals with an agenda. And one of many issues that’s been a fear is that whereas crime has gone up throughout the pandemic, a whole lot of it has been exaggerated by individuals with an agenda who’re anti the reforms that we’ve fought for. So there are of us with an agenda to incarcerate extra individuals, to type of assault any makes an attempt at accountability for the police and every other 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 not too long ago about shootings in New York. They haven’t gone up dramatically, however the press protection of them had gone up dramatically. And so we want to verify we’re coping with information and we have to guarantee that our journalists are telling the reality and ensuring they’re not simply repeating propaganda by individuals with an curiosity within the final result and an curiosity within the funding choice. And both means, individuals need to really feel secure. And there was an uptick in crime throughout the pandemic. And we want to verify we are attempting to resolve these issues by attacking the roots of these issues and never simply considering we’re going to incarcerate our strategy to security in our communities, as a result of we’ve been doing incarceration. We’ve been doing very properly in incarcerating individuals, however we’re not fixing all these issues. So we have to assume extra creatively about how one can spend money on our communities to stop a few of these crimes from taking place. Make all of our individuals really feel safer, but in addition give them locations to dwell, give them alternatives to work. And in the event that they’re having psychological well being crises or drug dependancy crises, giving them assist.

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You had been sad otherwise you expressed unhappiness when the president mentioned that he wished native communities to make use of a number of the a number of the Rescue Act cash that’s 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 navy funding on this planet aside from, I feel China and perhaps a few different nations. So we spend some huge cash on police. So once more, if we might police and incarcerate our strategy 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, individuals received 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 very 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 at all times complain about we don’t have the cash for this. We don’t have the cash for that. We don’t have cash to assist the poor. We don’t have cash for housing, however we at all times 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, didn’t that grow to be type of a cudgel for opponents.

It did, however isn’t every little thing a cudgel? Initially, no Democrats ran on defund. No, you recognize main nationwide Democrats. Joe Biden didn’t. Nearly no Home members ran on it. Nearly no Senate members ran on it. It was actually simply an activist slogan, individuals on the left who’re activists responding to George Floyd’s homicide. So regardless that no Democratic politicians ran on it, they had been saddled with it anyway. So it goes to indicate you that it doesn’t 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 at any time when they need to. And so they’re not going to let the reality be any type 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’re not doing it with any type of sincerity or honesty. They’re being disingenuous. And I don’t know the way you battle that as a result of it’s not true. Like they’re accusing him of one thing that’s simply not true.

I need to simply swap topics for a second. You and your spouse, Chrissy Teigen, who’s well-known as properly, have two youngsters. And also you had a 3rd baby and also you misplaced that baby throughout the being pregnant. And he or she’s written and talked about how devastating that was to all of you. Now we have this debate occurring now in regards to the Dobbs choice overturning Roe. And I’m questioning how your expertise of getting misplaced that baby performs into as a result of there may be this notion that in some way persons 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’s so intimate and it’s so private. How do we would like our governors and our legislators, most of whom are males on this room with a physician 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 not too long ago. I believed it might need been nearly too tongue in cheek about it, however they had been primarily saying, you recognize, would you like Governor Abbott within the room serving to you determine what to do together with your being pregnant and— no! And having gone by that state of affairs with my spouse, primarily anybody who would have a miscarriage must be investigated. In case you determine they weren’t allowed to have an abortion, then anybody who had a miscarriage in spite of everything of that trauma, in spite of everything of that ache, in spite of everything these tears we went by to then have the native D.A. or a neighborhood regulation enforcement do an investigation and ensure the miscarriage was authorised 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 in peril for them to make this intimate choice that they make between themselves and their physician, to have the federal government concerned in that dialog in any means is so offensive to me. It’s nasty. It’s evil. It shouldn’t be even a dialogue. The federal government shouldn’t be concerned. And I imagine, you recognize, I perceive individuals which might be like, properly, what about after six months? What about after eight months? However in the event you noticed Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who’s now Secretary Pete, I feel he had a terrific response to that. And he was saying principally, anybody who will get to that stage of a being pregnant, they wished to have the infant. They often have a reputation for the infant.

Acquired the room arrange. Yeah.

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

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

Effectively, I’m not an energetic church member anymore, so I don’t 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 a whole lot of interactions with White evangelical church buildings in my group. And in reality, I went to a Christian faculty for 2 years that was run by an evangelical church in my group, a White evangelical church in my group. And so I’m very aware of, you recognize, the group with the tradition of the White evangelical church. And now we have to be clear that that may be a political motion as a lot because it’s a non secular motion. And in a whole lot of methods, it’s a racial motion simply as a lot because it’s a non secular motion. So we are able to by no means exclude White from our descriptive dialog in regards to the evangelical church. As a result of the White and the evangelical are doing a whole lot of work in that dialog. So a part of the rationale for the conservatism in that group is a racial conservatism. They’ve been towards a whole lot of the advances for Black and Brown individuals in our nation, however they’ve additionally been towards advances for girls in our nation. They’ve been towards advances for the LGBTQ group in our nation. So that they’ve in a number of methods stood towards progress in our nation. And I simply disagree with them. I disagree with them on a number of ranges. And I don’t imagine that they need to be capable to use their religion as a means 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 didn’t root for any explicit faith, that the federal government didn’t attempt to set up any explicit church or any explicit denomination or any explicit faith. And we shouldn’t let the spiritual views of some dictate the behaviors of your complete nation.

You mentioned when Donald Trump was elected that you just 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 a whole lot 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 a whole lot of firms put out statements and lots of people employed DEI officers and all these different issues. After which we had, you recognize, a whole lot of conversations round this nation’s historical past of racism. After which a whole lot 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’ve seen an enormous backlash not solely within the crime dialog, however we’ve seen it with all this nonsense about CRT, all the elimination of books and gadgets from the curriculum in a whole lot of states and communities. We’ve 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 everywhere in the world to attempt to dwell the American dream is a power of our nation, it’s not a weak spot. It makes us higher. And if we’re capable of see one another, respect one another, acknowledge the truth that we could also be completely different in some methods, however take a look at that as a power after which govern ourselves accordingly. We will grow to be a greater nation. My good friend Heather McGhee wrote a terrific ebook known as “The Sum of Us,” the place she talked a lot about how us having racial resentment maintain the nation again has price everyone. And her metaphor all through the ebook, in fact, is the general public pool. So fairly than desegregating the general public pool in a whole lot of these communities, they simply removed the pool. So this public good that was benefiting all types of oldsters and that will have been accessible to everybody as soon as it needed to be desegregated. They’d fairly do away with it so that they didn’t have it, than make or not it’s accessible to everybody. So I feel that type of mentality, that zero sum mentality the place we’re competing towards different races and never considering we are able to all succeed collectively and develop collectively, that’s what’s holding us again. And the one means 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’s the type of work that I’ve been making an attempt to do across the nation.

Everyone who’s listened to it will have the identical query. So I’ve received to ask it. Approach again when, if you had been musing about your future, I feel there was some musing additionally about enjoying a management function past music, working for workplace, maybe president, maybe one thing else. You’re a strong advocate. Do you ever take into consideration that? Do you ever take into consideration, hey, perhaps I ought to step away from the piano for some time.

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

Now you recognize what it’s like and also you assume perhaps not.

Precisely, I do know sufficient individuals to have been president, one particularly, that I’m good. I don’t want that in my life. , 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’m capable of make a big effect by the work that I’m doing and. I like the way in which that I’m doing it now and I don’t need to run for workplace. A part of it might be simply my very own selfishness and vainness. Like, I like the truth that half the nation isn’t rooting for my failure on daily basis proper now. And I don’t stay up for the concept of half of my nation rooting for me to fail and seeking to destroy me. I respect anybody who’s prepared to place themselves and their household by that, however I simply don’t need to do it.

I’ll let you know, John, I don’t learn about them rooting towards you to fail, however I wouldn’t guess towards you to fail based mostly in your unimaginable life and story. And thanks for all of the contributions you’ve made.

Thanks, David. It’s such a pleasure speaking with you. And it’s really been a pleasure. And I really feel like hopefully individuals can study from my story and interact with a number of the issues we talked about as we speak. 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 off a phrase in regards to the workforce that makes this podcast attainable. , I’m 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 supply a particular due to my intrepid government producer and proper hand Allyson Siegal. Sensible, insightful and delicate, her partnership and counsel has meant extra to me than I might ever adequately categorical. Lastly, due to all of you, our listeners, for taking these journeys of discovery with me every week. I stay up for sharing extra of them within the months and years to come back. And perhaps we’ll even hit a thousand.