Ludacris is honored by Soledad O’Brien and the Morehouse School of Medicine for his outstanding service.
The hip hop generation is often criticized in the media and from various activists for not being socially responsible, advocating for good causes, giving back to their respective communities and owning up to their role model status. However, the truth still holds; it takes a village to raise a child.
Those with fame and fortune (especially young black males) carry the most weight as it relates to having a major influence on society (particularly youth culture), but efforts are being made out there by some incredible voices. On Thurs., Oct. 6, 2011, Atlanta’s revered Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) honored Grammy Award-winning hip hop artist, actor and entrepreneur Christopher “Ludacris” Bridges with the fourth Soledad O’Brien Freedom’s Voice Award at the luxurious St. Regis Hotel.
“I always say that when I win awards like this, it always means more to me than any type of music award from MTV, BET, the Oscars,” he says in his acceptance speech. “When you get rewarded for your charity work and what you do for the community, it means a lot more. I’m grateful and appreciative and probably just as inspired and motivated by you as you are motivated and inspired by me.”
With over 20 million albums sold worldwide to date, Southern hip hop’s multi-talented, chart-topping and highest-selling solo recording artist – who spent an hour with some of the medical students in a private reception prior to the black tie dinner and ceremony (joking that he could invest in some of the research and quit rapping along with his obsession with hand sanitizer) — knows what it means to pay his blessings forward: emphasizing how he was required to perform community service during his tenure as a radio disc jockey. He recognizes early on that using his local celebrity status to visit children in hospitals would pave the way for future endeavors. “Being young and just wanting to have fun doing what I really wanted to do, I was extremely ignorant to how a great opportunity it was. I noticed how I affected these young people and just how I made a difference in their lives, and that is why you know about the Ludacris Foundation to this day.”
Since then, Ludacris – a one-time target for political commentator Bill O’Reilly and media icon Oprah Winfrey — has become a spokesperson on college campuses for teen runaways, HIV/AIDS awareness, safe sex and the future of technology and entertainment (organizing and launching a landmark panel at the Georgia Tech College of Management during Labor Day Weekend). Since 2001, his self-titled non-profit organization maintains three key focal areas — what he calls “the three Ls”: LudaCares; Leadership and Education and Living Healthy. He’s extremely proud of the organization donating over $2 million and 10K hours of invested hands-on service. “We help young people achieve their dreams through the encouragement of the principles of success, and we aim to show young people in America that they are the builders of their future. I take pride in the fact that I’m there doing these things and not just cutting checks and letting everybody else do the work.”
Currently, Ludacris is hard at work on his eighth LP, Ludaversal. Also a record label mogul (Disturbing the Peace); a restaurateur (Straits); the face of electronics (SOUL by Ludacris headphones); cognac connoisseur (Conjure); critically acclaimed actor and consummate live performer (battling against rock band Neon Trees as curators for this year’s Red Bull SoundClash series on Labor Day), he’s never one to deny his humane yet perfectionist-savvy Virgo tendencies. “America has a great promise, but it’s a promise unfulfilled. Not everybody gets an equal chance at it and some never get a chance at all. And not everyone believes that tomorrow can be better than today or that the promise is even meant for them at all. It’s not right that with all of our resources, every citizen is not afforded an opportunity to be the best that they can possibly be if they want – an opportunity to be your best. That is a promised that’s fulfilled, and I strive every single day to be my best. You gotta keep up. It’s not good to criticize the generation. I want to spark the brain of the next inventor or President. Be an innovator. Force yourself to come up-to-date on everything. Challenge yourself. You don’t have to emulate what everyone else is doing, but stay ahead of the curve. Make it your own, but understand what’s going on around you.”
Named in honor of the multiple award-winning CNN anchor and documentarian whose global reports gives voice to underrepresented communities and social issues, the Freedom’s Voice Award – previously received by publicist/humanitarian Malaak Compton-Rock, music industry veteran Kevin Liles (who pays homage to Ludacris via a video presentation) and actor/author Hill Harper – is an opportunity to honor an individual in the prime of their career. Student Olusinmi Bamgbose was also awarded the first MSM Honors Scholarship. O’Brien says Ludacris is “nothing but serious about music, business and the community with a very clear understanding and unique platform to reach young people.”
“True service is when you use every opportunity that God has given you to succeed and you wrap it up, take it and put it in the direction of trying to help others also raise their boats in the tide,” O’Brien says. “You don’t just take the success that you’ve got but somehow you’ve leveraged that success, and make it affect and work for other people. Chris is a person who does tremendous things for young people – many of them here in Atlanta. He’s an international superstar, and his imprint and his footprint is much bigger than Atlanta. It’s literally the globe.”
O’Brien herself, known for her critically acclaimed In America series and eight documentaries per year, reports on issues around African Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, public education, gay parenting, Hurricane Katrina (she literally bumps into then New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin at the Superdome), the Asian tsunami, the Israel and Hezbollah conflict, Haitian earthquake and America’s financial crisis. In 2012, she will assume a morning anchor role for a conversational ensemble program and continue with her documentaries. “I’ve had tremendous luck and opportunity to tell…it’s all luck and then being in a position to take it. So much of it is luck. In terms of community, my job is to report all of the community, but it’s a national and international community. My backyard is the world. You hope that the stories that you’re telling are microcosms of the larger issues. Stories are told through individuals; you hope to have a story that resonates with people. Everyone needs to open up the scope of their vision and recognize that we need to talk about issues like health care and education. You need to think about where you want America to look like. If you are not educating people, whoever those people may be, you’re going to be in trouble in this country.”
She adds that she’s quite hands on in determining the award recipients as much as she is about her beat assignments: conversing with Henrie Treadwell, Ph.D, MSM’s Director of Community Voices: Healthcare for the Underserved, along with an open process to have students submit ballots. “She uses her knowledge and the knowledge of others to tell something we didn’t know about ourselves,” says Valerie Montgomery Rice, M.D. – MSM’s Dean and Executive Vice President.
Never one to comment on issues she hasn’t spent time in the field covering, O’Brien knows her 25 year career in media is her biggest contribution to the world. “Journalists have a responsibility to bring stories what’s happening in our country that affect people of color, people who are poor, people who don’t have access to medical care. Our responsibility is to tell those stories. There are a lot of critical things happening right now, and we also have to have those conversations and not be completely sidelined by the entertainment side of it. We have to be very involved and educate the population about that.”
Words: Christopher Daniel
Photos: Morehouse School of Medicine