John Legend is more than just a powerful singing voice: He’s the voice of a generation who wants real change, and he’s walking his talk.
Grammy-winning singer John Legend announced this afternoon that he was launching a multiyear initiative called Free America, aimed at ending mass incarceration.
Earlier this year, he, alongside co-collaborator Common, won an Oscar for their song “Glory,” from the film Selma. During his Academy Awards speech, Legend spoke about America’s incarceration problem, which is indeed a problem, as America’s incarceration rate is the highest in the world, thanks to mandatory sentencing, broken windows policing, a lack of mental health services for the mentally ill, who often end up criminally incarcerated, and a “justice” system that prosecutes minorities at higher rates with tougher sentencing than their white counterparts.
It’s very likely that working to end mass incarceration will simultaneously address other parallel problems that are drivers of the prison industrial complex, like a lack of funding and access to preventative measures such as social and mental health services.
“We have a serious problem with incarceration in this country. It’s destroying families, it’s destroying communities and we’re the most incarcerated country in the world, and when you look deeper and look at the reasons we got to this place, we as a society made some choices politically and legislatively, culturally to deal with poverty, deal with mental illness in a certain way and that way usually involves using incarceration,” said Legend in an interview The Huffington Post.
On Thursday, he’ll be hitting Austin, Texas, where he will visit and perform at a correctional facility, in addition to taking part in a press conference with state legislators to discuss Texas’ criminal justice system. Later this month, he’s also scheduled to visit a California state penitentiary, and co-host a criminal justice event with Politico in Washington D.C..
Legend’s campaign will include help from other artists and organizations committed to ending mass incarceration. Celebrated writer and activist dream hampton announced she was joining Legend’s initiative Monday afternoon via Twitter; others have yet to be announced.
“I’m just trying to create some more awareness to this issue and trying to make some real change legislatively. And we’re not the only ones. There are senators that are looking at this, like Rand Paul and Cory Booker, there are other nonprofits that are looking at this, and I just wanted to add my voice to that,” he stated.
His initiative already has an victory to speak of: The approval of Proposition 47 in California this past November, which calls for classifying forgery, fraud, petty theft, shoplifting, and possession of small amounts of drugs–including cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines–as misdemeanors instead of felonies.
“Once you have that tag of a felony on your name, it’s hard for you to do anything. Getting those reduced to misdemeanors really impacted a lot of lives and we hope to launch more initiatives like that around the country,” he said.