My good friend and fellow critic Tim Gordon and I went to hear hip-hop artist/actor/philanthropist Ludacris speak at the National Press Club on Friday. He was there to talk about his foundation and the work it does in Atlanta and around the world to help provide opportunities, guidance, and inspiration for young people. His opening remarks were impressive as he described programs that provided 20 cars to people who needed them in order to do their jobs and take care of their families and described his goal: “Not so much to see what nobody has seen as to think what nobody has thought about what everybody sees.” He spoke about his family’s “deep-rooted tradition of service that underscores the responsibility we all have.” He was grateful that his own commitment to giving back was underscored is his first job, working for Radio One. Boss Cathy Hughes insisted on community service from her employees each week, establishing a precedent for what Ludacris would do after he became a successful recording artist.
The best part was his responses to the questions from the audience, which included local teenagers and fans as well as seasoned reporters. He told the audience not to attribute violence to hip-hop but to ignorance. And he spoke of the way the hip-hop community came together in a matter of hours to help him when one of his projects needed support. My favorite moment was his answer to a question about the most important lessons he learned from his mother, Roberta Shields, who now serves as president of the foundation. He said he could not count the important lessons he learned from her but he would tell us one. He always did well in school, especially in math, but she would give him extra work to do and he did not like it, especially one annual assignment to write down his expectations and goals. He hated it at the time, but Ludacris (born Chris Bridges) attributes his success to her insistence that he be specific and concrete and accountable for his aspirations. He learned from that to “stop quitting.” If he did not achieve the previous year’s goals, he had to think about why he did not and how to do better next time. I looked over at her and saw her beaming with pride.