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John Legend reflects on facing racism in college: “People treating you like you don’t belong”


PeopleAs John Legend basks in the glory of his latest honor, being named People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive, he’s counting his blessings, while also remembering unpleasant times in college when he faced racism.

The EGOT winner attended the University of Pennsylvania and graduated magna cum in 1999. While in college, he met Lauryn Hill and played piano on “Everything is Everything” on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which won a Grammy for Album of the Year.

However, his collegiate years were not always full of joy.

“I loved going to Penn, but occasionally you’ll see things that happen in social media right now and it reminds me of things that happened to me when I was in college,” Legend says in the People cover story. “People treating you like you don’t belong there or asking for your ID when they wouldn’t ask for a white kid’s ID.”

Legend remembers how simple daily activities could become problematic because of his skin color.

“Asking me to prove that it was my car that I was getting into in West Philadelphia. Things like that, just occasional encounters with police and with people who questioned your belonging,” he says.

The Voice judge says “a lot of black students deal with” what he experienced 20 years ago.  

“The scariest thing is when police are called and you never know how that can escalate,” Legend continues. “Particularly with people of color, we’re often seen as dangerous even when we’re not. When that suspicion is added to any circumstance, it can be dangerous for us.”  

As Legend sees racial inequality in the legal system, he’s become a strong advocate for criminal justice through his Free America organization, which he founded in 2014 to reduce the prison population.

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