Usher, Ed Roland, and more local celebs talk youth empowerment

Usher and Lisa Borders

Atlanta’s movers and shakers met at the St. Regis hotel today for an event celebrating Usher’s New Look foundation. Though it was all flashbulbs, rappers, and rock stars on what Usher called “the floral carpet,” the entertainer proved to me he was more than just a pretty face and a slick linen suit. His New Look organization, founded in Atlanta in 1999, empowers youth in underserved communities around the world. It mentors them, provides leadership education, emphasizes the importance of service, and encourages them to pursue their talents. So far it’s reached 13,000 kids, and 100 percent of them have graduated from high school and gone to college, so it must be doing something right.

 Today New Look honored four local leaders, and the program notes read like a who’s who in Atlanta. Lisa Borders and the Coca-Cola Foundation took home the Service Legacy Award; Julie Miller, managing director at Accenture, got the Servant Leadership Award; Ed Roland of the band Collective Soul took the Youth Catalyst Award. I still think it was a mistake, but I was seated with the Roland family (including brother and bandmate Dean), who beamed proudly. The Global Youth Leadership Award went to seventeen-year-old Nadji Jeter, a painfully cute Atlanta native fresh from filming the (panned) Grown Ups 2 with Adam Sandler and Chris Rock, who congratulated Jeter for his award via video (trumped only by Roland’s video shout-out from Elton John). Also in the crowd were Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, First Lady of Georgia Sandra Dunagan Deal, and Michelle Chamuel from Usher’s team on The Voice. Q100’s Jeff Dauler emceed and was actually kind of funny.

 But the New Look youth stole the show. There was the goosebump-inducing performance by the New Look youth choir, first singing backup for Roland and his 1995 hit “The World I Know,” then belting out “Imagine” and “With a Little Help from My Friends.” One New Looker DJed the event; another did the photography. And there was James Harris, a New Look alum and current Atlanta program coordinator, who told his story in an impromptu call to the stage.

 New Look is currently forging a relationship with the Georgia Department of Education to implement its curriculum in schools. And Usher himself is boots on the ground.

 “Mentoring just became this passion for me,” he said in our brief but gratifying one-on-one. “Who’s to say what the future will hold for the New Look foundation? I’ve already seen changes all over Atlanta.”