The COVID-19 pandemic has rained on a lot of students’ parades this year.

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Countless students who were looking forward to traveling abroad this semester find themselves going from one point of their homes to the next, as states shut down and flights outside the country were prohibited. Swiftly, it became clear that no one was going anywhere. Spring break itineraries had to be adjusted or canceled and seniors missed out on prom, class trip, and for some even graduation.

And while virtual day-school seemed to have robbed students (K-12, undergrad and graduate level) of the luxury of peer learning and engagement, it also put into play a brand new use for technology, inspiring scholarship with a brand “new look.”


Youth from all over had the opportunity to take a “new look” at the concept of possibility — in light of disappointment.

That is actually a premise that the eight-time GRAMMY-Award winning artist Usher Raymond has taught in his empowerment program.

His nonprofit, Usher’s First Look (UNL), offers young people from different backgrounds, social class, and learning abilities the tools to re-envision the promise over their life in a new way by teaching them how to identify the “spark” that makes them different.

And even the scholars associated with the program probably were discouraged and frustrated by the disruption of their usual scholastic routine. Sensing that the young people could use some encouragement, the “My Way” singer took to social media to send his crew a message.

 “Yo, what up! It’s your boy, Usher, big brother all mighty and I am checking in on my young scholars.”

“I am sending this as an encouraging message. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has put a lot of our lives on hold, that does not mean that it is keeping your learning … your ambition on hold.”

“I am asking that you keep this very simple routine: Wake up, get dressed, and log in to the virtual school and give it your all while your there. If you are having any technical issues please have your parents reach out to your schools to get you the tools you need. Listen I’m rooting for you. I’m here for you. Keep going.”

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The message was also packaged within another announcement to the youth via email.

Sent from the desk of UNL’s president and CEO, Careshia Moore, the scholars were encouraged to register for the virtual experience carefully mapped out to replace the program that has been blessing lives for almost two decades.

UNL has created a virtual academy using technology as a springboard to teach their core values and expose them to brand new opportunities in entertainment while building skills that would last them throughout the rest of their life’s personal and professional journey.

From May 11th to August 28th, the UNL Virtual Summer Academy will start each of the 16 weeks off with start a segment called, “Motivational Mondays.” The team will also host sessions on talent exploration, exposure to new career options, health, and wellness readiness. Attendees, who range between 14 to 18 years of age, will also be taught the proper way to network and follow up with important leads. 

By working with high school-aged kids, they help to shape leaders that go on to be excellent examples for the communities. In fact, 100% of its Leadership Academy scholars graduate from high school and almost all (98%) go on to college. 86% of these students are also first-generation college students, breaking generation curses by learning what discipline and hard work feels like, meeting successful people with origin stories that are similar to theirs, and being encouraged not just to reach for the stars — but leap upward towards them with zeal.

The program does not make leaders, the nurture what has embedded in them from the very start of their lives.

They nurture by tapping into the four core pillars of their pedagogy: Talent, Education, Career, and Service. 

His UNL team, small as it is, stands tall to execute his dreams. His C-Suite consists of Careshia Moore (President & CEO), Geoff Streat (COO), and Amy Frizzell (Development).

Their national leadership team Kamera Cobb (National Program Coordinator), Michael Broughton (Controller), Avery Floyd (Atlanta Program Coordinator), Latoya Henry (New York Program Manager), Tommy Springer (Media Production), Jessica Washington (Financial Literacy Director), Kim Williams (Marketing Director), Yurby Aquino (New York Assistant Program Coordinator) and Nicole White (Moguls in Training [MIT] Program Coordinator).

As a model of excellence, Usher’s New Look is a great and innovative organization that Hip-Hop enthusiasts and The Source’s millions of fans should consider donating during this #GivingTuesday season!