ATLANTA, Georgia — Celebrities, business leaders and corporate sponsors turned out in full force Thursday to support Usher’s youth empowerment initiative.
Well-heeled guests at the New Look Foundation’s fundraising luncheon included director Kenny Leon, boxing icon Sugar Ray Leonard; and singers Rico Love, Jermaine Dupri and Blake Shelton.
Atlanta native Ludacris hosted the star-studded gala, which drew around 450 attendees.
Josh Kaufman, Season 6 winner of NBC’s “The Voice,” was also in attendance and performed a powerful rendition of “I Am Wrong.”
Former U.S President Bill Clinton, actor Robert De Niro and singer Pharrell Williams all posted video messages congratulating Usher on “his baby’s success.”
The President’s Circle Awards Luncheon at the luxury St. Regis Atlanta hotel in the upscale Buckhead neighborhood marks the 15th year that the R&B star established the foundation at the tender age of 20, with the support of his mother.
“A lot of kids find their way from high school to disaster,” the eight-time Grammy winner and philanthropist told theGrio on the red carpet moments before the show.
“If you can meet them there, if you can find a way to talk to them and engage them, in between 7th and 12th grade, you can change their lives.”
The two-hour event celebrated and paid homage to organizations and community influencers that have inspired youth to pursue their passions while making a significant impact in their respective professional fields.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was honored with the Service Legacy Award alongside other notable honorees that included sponsors and outstanding students.
The foundation raised more than $1 million through yesterday’s luncheon. A live auction during the ceremony — which included signed Leonard boxing gloves and a boxing lesson at his home — raised a further $98,000.
Jasmine Pollard, a New Look New Look Mogul in Training, was presented with the coveted Youth Achievement Award. Her emotional acceptance speech earned a standing ovation.
“Just because life sets you up to fail, doesn’t mean you have to,” she said.
The New Look Foundation has mentored the 22-year-old since she was a 7th grader.
The product of a single teenager mother, Pollard is the first in her family to go on to college. It is unlikely she would have reached this milestone without the support provided by the foundation.
“New Look showed me a lot of things I wouldn’t have considered,” Pollard told theGrio. “It’s taught me the difference between a job and a career. It just gave me different perspectives on what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
“I’m here for the kids,” legendary boxer Leonard told theGrio. “What Usher has done with his foundation has been incredible. He’s been inspirational outside his arena.”
“I had a chance to speak to some of the young men and women last night, and they’re amazing. It’s so inspirational to know that you’re on the right road.”
Usher’s Atlanta-based non-profit has helped more than 21,000 children and adolescents worldwide since its inception in 1999. It’s mission is to certify disadvantaged youth in talent, education, career and service, with a dynamic program that provides them mentors, internships, career advice, curriculum-based leadership training and travel opportunities.
The certification is backed by Emory University. The goal of Powered By Service is to give youth the tools and resources they need to succeed as leaders in their communities and around the world.
All of Usher’s “New Look youth” graduate from high school; an impressive 98 percent go onto college.
Other honorees included: Mary-Pat Hector, New Look Academy Youth and Activist; Kami Luigs, General Electric Foundation; Cory Nettles, New Look treasurer and Shawn Wilson, former New Look President.
Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter @Kunbiti.