John Legend, Kennedy Center Launch Youth Initiative

On the eve of Black History Month, the Kennedy Center announced a partnership with singer-songwriter John Legend on a campaign called What’s Going On… NOW, a national arts and digital media initiative. It is designed to draw and engage youth while contemporaneously commemorating the 40th anniversary of Marvin Gaye’s groundbreaking album What’s Going On.

The framework of What’s Going On… NOW operates similar to YouTube. It allows its users to share their stories through sound, images, music and video. To whet users’ inspiration, they are given exposition on selected themes, such as veterans issues, addiction, and social change; then they can generate, upload, and distribute their content for others to see.

What’s Going On… NOW has a wealth of information, such as historical facts, interviews and soundbites of Gaye’s album. The singer and the Kennedy Center have created a new path and solid voice for young multimedia producers. They’ll showcase the best of this youth-produced media online and at the Kennedy Center during a celebration in May featuring Legend, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, and the National Symphony Orchestra.

Inside the terrace-level KC Jazz Room, Legend lead a symposium with collaborators Dr. Nichole Pinkard, founder of the Digital Youth Network; Harry Weinger, VP of A&R at Universal Music; and Darrell Myers, VP for Education at the Kennedy Center. Each took a turn on stage to discuss the innovative program and answered questions. Legend was joined by students from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, to perform “What’s Going On.”

The project began to take form last fall when Legend and his fellow constituents forged a network with schools, media partners, and youth arts organizations before the January launch. The network spans from the Northern to Southern California and from Chicago to the nation’s capital. This rich network will facilitate open source education and expression.

The program targets youth, teachers, and mentors within the primary and secondary education sectors. What’s Going On… NOW empowers youth to acquire a nuanced skill set. The question “What’s Going On… NOW?” sets the stage for young people to think critically and creatively when forming the user-generated content for the site. The platform will also give youth and the mentors who are part of the program the opportunity to evaluate and add to their submitted work. What’s Going On… NOW will share and distribute stories and news through their Twitter feed.

Forty years ago, Marvin Gaye performed What’s Going On at the Kennedy Center’s inaugural season. Time were desperate for many American citizens. The album spoke to them. At the Kennedy Center, Legend alluded that America’s greatness falls in the hands of our young people. If a positive cycle continues, hope will ensue.

Photos by Taylor W. Photography

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