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TED2016

John Legend: "Redemption Song"

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Views 1,566,513

John Legend is on a mission to transform America's criminal justice system. Through his Free America campaign, he's encouraging rehabilitation and healing in our prisons, jails and detention centers -- and giving hope to those who want to create a better life after serving their time. With a spoken-word prelude from James Cavitt, an inmate at San Quentin State Prison, Legend treats us to his version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." "Won't you help to sing these songs of freedom?"

- Singer, musician, composer
With his philanthropic work, John Legend is leveraging his stardom to raise social consciousness and make a positive impact on a global scale. Full bio

At Free America, we've done
a listening and learning tour.
00:12
We visited not only with prosecutors
00:16
but with legislators,
00:19
with inmates in our state
and local prisons.
00:21
We've gone to immigration
detention centers.
00:27
We've met a lot of people.
00:30
And we've seen that redemption
and transformation can happen
00:33
in our prisons, our jails
and our immigration detention centers,
00:39
giving hope to those
who want to create a better life
00:44
after serving their time.
00:47
Imagine if we also considered
the front end of this prison pipeline.
00:50
What would it look like
if we intervened,
00:53
with rehabilitation as a core value --
00:55
with love and compassion as core values?
00:58
We would have a society that is safer,
01:02
healthier
01:04
and worthy of raising our children in.
01:06
I want to introduce you to James Cavitt.
01:08
James served 12 years
in the San Quentin State Prison
01:12
and is being released in 18 months.
01:16
Now James, like you and me,
01:19
is more than the worst thing he's done.
01:21
He is a father, a husband, a son, a poet.
01:25
He committed a crime;
01:29
he's paying his debt,
01:30
and working hard to build the skills
01:32
to make the transition back
to a productive life
01:35
when he enters the civilian
population again.
01:38
Now James, like millions
of people behind bars,
01:41
is an example of what happens
01:44
if we believe that our failings
don't define who we are,
01:46
that we are all worthy of redemption
01:51
and if we support those impacted
by mass incarceration,
01:53
we can all heal together.
01:57
I'd like to introduce you
to James right now,
02:00
and he's going to share
his journey of redemption
02:02
through spoken word.
02:04
James Cavitt: Thanks, John.
02:08
TED, welcome to San Quentin.
02:09
The talent is abundant
behind prison walls.
02:12
Future software engineers,
02:15
entrepreneurs,
02:17
craftsmen,
02:18
musicians
02:20
and artists.
02:21
This piece is inspired
by all of the hard work
02:22
that men and women are doing on the inside
02:25
to create better lives
and futures for themselves
02:28
after they serve their time.
02:32
This piece is entitled, "Where I Live."
02:34
I live in a world where most people
are too afraid to go.
02:40
Surrounded by tall, concrete walls,
02:44
steel bars,
02:46
where razor wire have a way
02:47
of cutting away at the hopes
for a brighter tomorrow.
02:49
I live in a world
02:53
that kill people who kill people
02:54
in order to teach people
02:56
that killing people is wrong.
02:57
Imagine that.
03:00
Better yet,
03:02
imagine a world where healed people
helped hurt people heal
03:03
and become strong.
03:06
Maybe then we would all
be singin' "Redemption Song."
03:08
I live in a world that
has been called "hell on Earth"
03:13
by those trapped inside.
03:16
But I've come to the stark realization
03:19
that prison --
03:20
it really is what you make it.
03:22
You see, in spite
of the harshness of my reality,
03:25
there is a silver lining.
03:27
I knew that my freedom was gonna come,
03:30
it was just a matter of time.
03:32
And so I treated my first steps
as if they were my last mile,
03:33
and I realized that you
don't have to be free
03:37
in order to experience freedom.
03:40
And just because you're free,
03:42
doesn't mean that you have freedom.
03:44
Many of us, for years,
have been battling our inner demons.
03:46
We walk around smiling
when inside we're really screamin':
03:50
freedom!
03:53
Don't you get it?
03:56
We're all serving time;
03:58
we're just in different places.
03:59
As for me,
04:01
I choose to be free
from the prisons I've created.
04:02
The key:
04:05
forgiveness.
04:06
Action's my witness.
04:07
If we want freedom,
04:09
then we gotta think different.
04:11
Because freedom ...
04:13
it isn't a place.
04:17
It's a mind setting.
04:19
Thank you.
04:22
(Applause)
04:24
(Piano)
04:27
John Legend: Old pirates, yes, they rob I.
04:45
Sold I to the merchant ships.
04:50
Minutes after they took I
04:55
from the bottomless pit.
04:59
My hands were made strong
05:03
by the hand of the almighty.
05:07
We forward in this generation
05:12
triumphantly.
05:17
Won't you help to sing
05:21
these songs of freedom?
05:26
'Cause all I ever had --
05:29
redemption songs.
05:35
Redemption songs.
05:39
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery.
05:43
None but ourselves can free our minds.
05:48
Have no fear for atomic energy
05:53
'cause none of them can stop the time.
05:57
How long shall they kill our prophets
06:01
while we stand aside and look?
06:05
Some say it's just a part of it,
06:10
we've got to fulfill the book.
06:14
Won't you help to sing
06:18
these songs of freedom?
06:24
'Cause all I ever had --
06:27
redemption songs.
06:32
Redemption songs.
06:36
(Piano)
06:38
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery.
06:56
None but ourselves can free our minds.
07:00
Have no fear for atomic energy
07:04
'cause none of them can stop the time.
07:09
How long shall they kill our prophets
07:12
while we stand aside and look?
07:17
Some say it's just a part of it,
07:20
we've got to fulfill the book.
07:25
Won't you help to sing
07:30
these songs of freedom?
07:35
'Cause all I ever had --
07:38
redemption songs.
07:43
Redemption songs.
07:47
These songs of freedom.
07:52
'Cause all I ever had --
07:55
redemption songs.
08:00
Redemption songs.
08:05
Redemption songs.
08:09
(Piano)
08:17
(Applause)
08:19
Thank you.
08:26
Thank you.
08:27
(Applause)
08:28

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About the speaker:

John Legend - Singer, musician, composer
With his philanthropic work, John Legend is leveraging his stardom to raise social consciousness and make a positive impact on a global scale.

Why you should listen

Fueled by a lean, immediate sound and a message rooted in optimism, John Legend has become a true superstar with blockbuster tours, high-profile collaborations, nine Grammys and an Oscar (for Best Original Song, “Glory” in 2015’s Selma).

Legend is well-known for his philanthropic work, which includes the Show Me Campaign, an organization that seeks to provide every child with access to a quality education. Most recently, Legend launched #FREEAMERICA, a multi-year cultural change campaign focused on ending mass incarceration. As a respected artist, Legend is using his platform to engage stakeholders from all areas of the criminal justice system to work towards that goal.

More profile about the speaker
John Legend | Speaker | TED.com