- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 5, 2009

More than 1,500 international, government and corporate leaders gathered this week to honor six-time Grammy Award winner John Legend, but not for his accomplishments onstage. The singer-songwriter took the microphone at the Africare gala at the Washington Hilton for a different reason Tuesday night. Now he is using his soulful voice to inspire and motivate.

“I’m passionate for making a difference,” Mr. Legend said during his speech accepting Africare’s Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award.

“We want to honor [Mr. Legend‘s] personal commitment to ending poverty and to improve the lives of people in Africa,” said W. Frank Fountain, chairman of Africare. “He is truly a role model for us at any age to follow. He represents us and humanity around the world.”

Africare, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) working in partnership with Africans to build sustainable, healthy communities on the continent, once a year honors a humanitarian who has helped its mission. The Walker award was first given in 1990 in memory of Bishop Walker, a popular leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and Africare’s longtime board chairman. He died in 1989.

Since then, the humanitarian award has been given to former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, and former South African President Nelson Mandela, among many others.

According to its Web site, Africare presents the award to an “outstanding citizen who has dedicated himself or herself to improving the quality of life for the people of Africa.”

Mr. Legend, who “is challenging a new generation not only to care, but to take action,” has done just that.

In 2007, Mr. Legend launched the Show Me Campaign to end poverty in Africa through sustainable and practical developments. The program works with college students in the United States to raise awareness of the effects of poverty in Africa, providing students with ways to get involved through Mr. Legend’s Poverty Action Tour. The Show Me Campaign aims to free people from the “devastating effects of poverty” and provide development, service and education in Africa.

The campaign partners with Millennium Promise, Management Leadership for Tomorrow, the Gentlemen’s Fund and United We Serve, all organizations that seek to help people in Africa.

Mr. Legend said he recently toured African countries and saw the poverty firsthand, and he’s trying to tell the world that the problems in the U.S. are minor compared to Africa’s.

“It is much more powerful to see the poverty on the faces of real human beings,” Mr. Legend said. “Our collective future depends on Africa’s future.”

He added that he will not accept the unnecessary loss of children’s lives in Africa from preventable diseases. One preventable disease, malaria, has been Africare’s main focus this year.

Retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral R. Timothy Ziemer, the global malaria coordinator for the President’s Malaria Initiative, took the stage Tuesday to thank Mr. Legend for his efforts and also enlightened the audience on facts and progress in Africa.

“I was taught that the good Lord didn’t make anything that didn’t have a purpose, but the mosquito came close,” Adm. Ziemer said. “Over a million people die each year from [malaria], and it creates a $12 billion impact on Africa.”

Adm. Ziemer said 90 percent of the 1 million people worldwide who die each year from malaria live in sub-Saharan Africa. It also is the leading cause of death of children younger than 5 in the impoverished continent.

“Today, 3,000 kids will die in Africa,” Adm. Ziemer said.

He said that over the years and thanks to the help of Africare, the prevalence and mortality rate of malaria has dropped 62 percent and 30 percent respectively. There has been much success from spray and bed nets provided to communities.

Africare is working in 20 African countries, including Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Uganda. It has noted its recent distribution of thousands of insecticide-treated bed nets in Nigeria and Zambia; an increased number of pregnant women receiving preventative malaria treatments; and the training of more than 300 nurses in malaria testing, treatment and communication.

Mr. Legend, known for his heartfelt lyrics and passion, spoke of growing up in the church, listening to sermons and gaining a “strong sense of morality.”

“Searching for the truth is a process, and our world needs more people in that process,” Mr. Legend said. “A commitment to truth will lead us to social justice.”

The soul singer said his work is far from finished.

What is soul?

“Soulfulness and truth are closely related,” Mr. Legend said. “Soul is about authenticity, finding what is real and finding what is right. I’ve found soul in my philanthropy work.”

He encouraged everyone to do their work “with soul.”

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