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John Legend Fights for Criminal Justice Reform

by Christopher Zoukis

Singer and songwriter John Legend is not just a ten-time Grammy winner. The international superstar is also part of a family that has had several members locked up, including his mother. And he wants to do something “to change the national conversation about our country’s misguided policies,” according to, the website associated with his #FreeAmerica campaign. [See: PLN, Sept. 2016, p.63; Nov. 2015, p.63].

As part of that campaign, Legend has visited and performed in several prisons. When he sang for prisoners at the Washington Correctional Center for Women in 2016, he told the audience “this system is not healthy right now.”

“We’ve gone too far on the punitive side,” he said. “We need to focus more on fairness, compassion, mercy and restoring people so they can be whole and go back into the community and live productive, compassionate, healthy lives.”

Legend recently launched his Unlocked Futures initiative, which will help newly-released prisoners by providing them with business grants and job training. The singer announced the initiative, which includes a partnership with New Profit and Bank of America, at the 4th Annual Town & County Philanthropy Summit, held in May 2017.

Legend has strong feelings about the U.S. criminal justice system, having referred to it as “terrible.” His advocacy efforts make it clear that he intends to do something to bring about meaningful change.

“Having family members locked up and seeing the effects it had on the young people and the challenges that it introduced into their lives, I knew this was an important issue and something I want to divert some of my resources and time to make a significant change in,” he stated.

According to a March 29, 2018 CNBC article, Legend’s Unlocked Futures initiative is using a $500,000 grant from Bank of America to fund formerly-incarcerated entrepreneurs. One, Will Avila, founded Clean Decisions – a cleaning service that hires ex-prisoners.

“I have seen that entrepreneurship is a viable way for formerly incarcerated individuals to build sustainable livelihoods and contribute to their communities and neighborhoods,” Legend remarked. 



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