John Legend’s father reflects on son’s accomplishments

Singer-songwriter John Legend performs on stage at the Baloise Session in Basel, Switzerland, Oct. 20, 2018.

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Singer-songwriter John Legend performs on stage at the Baloise Session in Basel, Switzerland, Oct. 20, 2018.

Springfield-raised musician up for Oscar with Common for their song “Glory” from “Selma”


(Published Wednesday, Jan. 12, 1994 in the Dayton Daily News)

In an ever-changing society, Black America is in dire need of effective leadership that will be an enabling force in the struggle for advancement. Our predecessors used successful tactics in gaining equality through written law, however, the problems of the African-American extend much deeper than those which can be solved through legislation. A new generation requires a modified approach to success. I feel that I possess a concern for my people, an exemplary character, and God-given talents which will enable me to be a strong leader and an advocate for the African-American people.

In examining Black America, one observes a potentially powerful people being limited by bitterness and inward discord. It seems that African-Americans are suffering in every facet of society. There is an inordinate amount of crime among our people, and, to make matters worse, much of these offenses are committed against other blacks. As a result of these crimes, there is a disproportionate number of African-Americans who are trapped in the judicial system, leaving behind emotionally and economically wounded family members and friends. Afro-Americans are also lagging behind in our educational system. Suffering from a lack of motivation and a school system not geared to their special needs, Blacks are scoring comparatively low in the classroom and on standardized tests. These, in addition to many other pressing needs, are problems which definitely need to be addressed.

In beholding the immense sea of problems which are present in the black community, one would have a proclivity toward placing blame on the predominantly white government and other outside forces. Though the government is not void of responsibility, now is a time for collective introspection and self-examination. Instead of relying on the government’s version of Affirmative Action, the Afro-American must act affirmatively on his/her own behalf. Blacks must strive for economic, educational and moral goals through cooperating with and respecting each other. Instead of allowing the past to cause embitterment and to hinder progress, it is the time to learn from the successes and failures of our forerunners and to build on their experiences.

In order to achieve these goals, it is important for strong men and women to be in the forefront and to lead in the struggle for success. I plan to impact society by developing my own character and being a leader in the community by example. I plan to use my social skills and my musical talents to be a positive role model for my fellow Afro-Americans. I envision a successful musical career that will allow me to obtain high visibility in the community. This, in turn, will put me in a position of great influence, which I will utilize in order to be an advocate for the advancement of blacks in America.

Though the Afro-American community is currently suffering through some difficult times, powerful young men and women have the ability to control the destiny of our people and lead us into the future. I plan to be one of these future Black History Makers of Tomorrow.

Ron Stephens’ son was able to score him tickets to this year’s Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Scoring tickets to Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles was another thing.

Not even John Legend, an strong Academy Award contender, could land his dad one of the most sought-after tickets in Hollywood.

“We will have on the TV like everyone else,” Stephens said with a laugh.

The Springfield resident is decidedly more excited than most Oscar viewers. He has reason to be.

Legend and musician/actor Common are up for an Academy Award for their song "Glory" from the movie "Selma."

Stephens said the song is fitting.

“(Glory) sets the stage for what he is doing now. Not just singing, but being a social activist,” he said.

Stephens says the ride his son is on is exhilarating.

“That ‘wow’ factor has been continuously expanding,” he said. “The Oscar is one of the top awards you can experience in the entertainment industry.”

Legend is one of two connections the region has to this year’s Oscars ceremony.

Dayton’s American Sniper 

Dayton native Luke Grimes has a key role in the blockbuster “American Sniper.”

Directed by Clint Eastwood, the film is nominated for Best Picture and five other awards, including Bradley Cooper for lead actor.

Grimes, a 2002 graduate of Dayton Christian High School and son of the Rev. Randy and Angie Grimes, plays Marc Lee, the real-life first Navy Seal to lose his life in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

It has been a busy 2015 for Luke Grimes. He also plays Christian Grey’s brother, Elliot, in the film version of E.L. James’ best-selling book “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

His family is pumped.

“We are very proud of him,” Grimes’ sister Lisa Chafin of Englewood said. “He wanted to be an actor since he was very young — since 10 years old.”

Legend’s vision

It also has been a productive few months for Legend, a Springfield North High School graduate born John Roger Stephens.

He won a Golden Globe for the song “Glory” a few weeks ago.

Stephens said he was a little disappointed his son did not win a Grammy for best original song for best pop solo performance for "All of Me (Live)". It would have been his 10th Grammy win.

“That would kind of have been the crown of his 10-year journey,” Ron Stephens said. He said Legend took the loss in stride. “Great people have the ability to accept winning and losing,” Stephens said. “He’s always been a winner, but he’s had his moments when he’s lost. That added to his character.”

Stephens cited his son’s big wins and losses in the spelling bee in school as an example.

“You don’t win everything, but you keep on going,” Stephens said.

Stephens said his son has always been a hard worker. Home-schooled for part of his childhood and with a strong foundation built around church, Legend developed a vision for his life early on.

Stephens recalled the winning essay his son wrote for a 1994 McDonald’s Black History Month contest. Stephens came across the article published in the “Dayton Daily News” on Jan. 12, 1994.

"A new generation requires a modified approach to success. I feel that I possess a concern for my people, an exemplary character, and God-given talents which will enable me to be a strong leader and an advocate for the African-American people," a portion of the essay reads.

Stephens said, “At the age of (14 0r 15), John had envisioned himself making good with his singing and being a social activist. To have a vision is one thing, but to work it… You have to have the vision. You have to have the wherewithal to make it a reality.”

Show me 

Stephens, an artist and owner of the growing business Popz Topz, said his famous son’s strong foundation helps keeps him humble and balanced.

Legend often mentioned how important it was that he had parents who stressed education and a good work ethic.

Known for his philanthropy, Legend is raising money for the South High School auditorium renovation in Springfield as part of his Show Me Campaign. Visit to enter

Those who donate $10 or more will have a chance at the free, private John Legend performance at a function of their choosing. The contest ends in late March.

Stephens said his son’s humility came across in a recent radio interview.

“Arrogance is when you think the world revolves around you, and you don’t need anybody. No doubt he has learned that you can’t do it by yourself. You need people,” Stephens said. “As good as you are, you don’t have it all.”

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