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Eight Forty-Eight

Kanye West Hosts Concert for Good Grades

INTRO: Kanye West performs tonight [Thursday, June 11] at the Chicago Theatre, raising money for his foundation. The group's goal is helping students stay in school. West is also performing a free show this afternoon for three thousand Chicago high school students. "Eight Forty Eight" contributor Robert Loerzel explains how a student from the suburbs got the ball rolling for today's events.

LOERZEL: David Abrams, a sophomore at Highland Park High School, came up with an idea one day in March, when he was listening to this very radio station.

ABRAMS INTERVIEW, 5:43 —the story detailed a student going to a high school in the inner city, a Chicago public high school...

EXCERPT FROM MARCH 31 STORY ("50/50: Giving Kids an 'F' a Real Dilemma by Linda Lutton). [Fade in] ... LUTTON: Mykelle had turned all but one of those grades into Cs and Ds. He had a BIG incentive to get his grades up...his mom offered him tickets to Lil' Wayne.  MYKELLE: I started going to class on time-started turning in all my work... [Fade out]

ABRAMS INTERVIEW, 6:20 — And me and my mom, just speaking to each other, just talking out loud, thought what a great idea would it be if we could have a concert -- a free concert, and kids that improve their grades or improve their attendance in school due to this incentive would get a free ticket.

LOERZEL: David and fifteen friends formed a group called SHOW. S-H-O-W stands for Students Helping Our World. Abrams' parents helped him get in touch with officials at the Chicago Public Schools and City Hall. Soon after, SHOW began searching for a hip-hop star to headline the event. How about Kanye West? David didn't think the superstar would even respond to his letter, but then…

ABRAMS INTERVIEW, 9:58 — I was in the student commons at school, and ... I got a text from my dad, who said, "Call me now." And I know I'm not supposed to at school, but I went in the back and called him so no one can see. And he was already on the phone with Kanye's lawyers who broke the news to me, and I literally was speechless.

LOERZEL: The concert was a natural fit for Kanye West, who started a foundation with his mother, Donda West, a former English professor at Chicago State University. About a month before she died in November 2007, Donda West explained what the foundation was trying to accomplish in a telephone interview.

DONDA WEST QUOTE 1 — Just like kids had "hoop dreams" and they wanted to play basketball, and still do, today a lot of kids have "loop dreams." They want to rap. They want to produce music. ... And we teach them to rap. We teach rap. We teach music production. ... But, really, the goal is to keep kids in school, that's the mission of the foundation, to combat the severe dropout problem that we have across the nation. ... Kanye always says that in school, he liked music, art, recess and lunch. That was pretty much it after a point. So he wanted to give students something that they really were already excited about, which is rap music.

LOERZEL: The Kanye West Foundation runs music studios inside Los Angeles schools, and now the group hopes to expand its Loop Dreams program with similar facilities in Chicago this fall. Kanye talks about education in a video posted on youtube.

AUDIO [from beginning of video posted at http://www.kanyewestfoundation.org/message_from_kanye.html] — KANYE WEST: Becoming a music superstar took hard work, but it also took a solid education. Too many kids today are failing to get the education they need to succeed in college or careers or just life itself...

LOERZEL: Tonight's concert by Kanye West at the Chicago Theatre, which is being filmed by Fuse TV, will raise money for the Loop Dreams program. And this afternoon, Kanye will perform a separate show at the theater for three thousand Chicago Public School students who have proved themselves with good grades and attendance. Students like Ronnell Anderson Bey, a junior at Nicholas Senn High School.

RONNELL INTERVIEW, 12:34 — I have good grades. I'm really never late to school. I've been late maybe twice this whole school year. LOERZEL: Ronnell, who hopes to study psychology and cooking at college, is a big Kanye West fan.

RONNELL INTERVIEW, 10:02 — He's always truthful in his music, and if he has something on his mind, he'll just say it.

RONNELL INTERVIEW, 10:29 — He knows it's hard out here in Chicago versus other cities. People out of town think of Chicago, they think it's big towns and big buildings, you know? And just rich people walking down the street. But it's much more than that, though. You know? You got different neighborhoods that are poor and reckless and all that, you know -- versus the downtown area, where you think it's a perfect world out there. So, that's why I like Kanye West. He knows where we're coming from.

LOERZEL: Over the past few months, David Abrams and the other members of SHOW have been visiting six high schools in Chicago to tell students about the Kanye West concert.

ABRAMS INTERVIEW, 13:24 — At Mather High School, one school downtown, there's one student who came up to me after our assembly and said, "Thank you so much. I got a few F's, but I think I can do better. This is -- Kanye's my favorite artist, and I promise I'm going to do better just to get to this concert." And that's our exact goal...

LOERZEL: Joseph Collins, the CEO of the Kanye West Foundation, says he gets a similar response when he talks at schools about the concert.

COLLINS INTERVIEW, 11:30 — The kids have run up to me and said, "I'm going to make it, man. I'm going to get that Kanye ticket. I'm going to do it." You know?

COLLINS INTERVIEW, 11:44 — So, I'm getting the message from the young people that this is one way that we may potentially get kids inspired and hooked into focusing on their education.

LOERZEL: Collins is quick to add that giving incentives like free concert tickets is not the whole solution to keeping students in school. Ronnell says he sees a lot of other students at Senn High School who aren't motivated to show up for class. But long before he heard about the Kanye concert, Ronnell was already motivated by someone close to him.

RONNELL INTERVIEW, 15:25 — My mother. 'Cause to be honest, she didn't finish high school. She didn't. She dropped out sophomore year because she had my sister, and you know, she's been struggling ever since. And I don't want to see my mother struggle. She tells me every day I have to finish high school. Education is our No. 1 priority. Without education, you can't go nowhere. Even a high school diploma to get a job now. So without that, you have nothing. She wants me to further my education so I can have a better job and a better life than she did.

LOERZEL: That's similar to what Kanye heard from his mother. Here's what Donda West said in that 2007 interview about raising a child on the South Side.

DONDA WEST QUOTE 2: You can't just let a child grow up like a weed. You really have to be there. And I always knew where Kanye was -- or at least I thought I knew, you know? Sometimes kids don't tell you everything. He knew the rules and he knew that he was required to follow them. I expected a lot of him. Having very, very high expectations was something else that I think was really critical in raising what I think to be an outstanding young man.

LOERZEL: So it seems fitting that tonight's concert is not just a benefit for the Kanye West Foundation. The group is also billing the show as a tribute to Kanye's mother.

AUDIO: Kanye West song "Hey Mama."

LOERZEL: For WBEZ, I'm Robert Loerzel.

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