Today it is my pleasure to honor and celebrate musician and social justice activist will.i.am. William James Adams was born in L.A. in 1975. He grew up in the Estrada Courts projects surrounded by poverty and struggling minority families. He was raised by Debra Adams, a single mom who wanted the best for her son and pushed him to be true to his unique self. She fostered his musical inclinations and helped him get in to Pallisades Charter High School, where he met Allan (apl.de.ap) Pineda.
The two formed Atban Klann, a socially-conscious rap group, which caught the attention of Eazy-E. He helped them land a deal before they were out of high school. They recorded and performed while will.i.am was also a regular on the rave scene, taking in a wide variety of musical influences. After Eazy-E’s death, the group transformed into the Black Eyed Peas and began one of the biggest musical careers of the last 20 years.
Solo and with the group, will.i.am has won seven Grammys, eight American Music Awards, a Billboard Music award, and dozens of other awards and accolades. Along the way, they have sold over 60 million albums and spent dozens of weeks atop the American and British charts. What makes will.i.am so remarkable is that he has channeled his money and success into making the world a better place.
He is an outspoken political activist who campaigned for President Obama in 2008 and 2012. He helped arrange the “Yes We Can” video and album that raised money and awareness for the campaign. Disdainful of how politics are practiced, he is optimistic about what good politicians can accomplish, especially after spending time touring outside the U.S.
The spark was traveling outside America and seeing it from a distance, seeing the way people viewed us. America went from this beautiful country to “Oh my gosh, you guys are so stupid.” But America tomorrow could still be the light of the world.
He is also a tireless activist for education, particularly science, technology, and math. He founded will.i.am angel, a non-profit dedicated to transforming lives through education, opportunity and inspiration. It provides educational opportunities for disadvantaged and marginalized children and helps create strong educational programs. He also spends a fair amount of time in Great Britain and has donated significant time and money to the Prince’s Trust there.
will.i.am clearly sees the intersections of oppression and the connection between ugly 1% politics and the spiral of poverty.
You can rule ignorance; you can manipulate the illiterate; you can do whatever you want when a people are uneducated, so that goes in line with corrupt business and corrupt politics. And they’re so transparent about it! They’re telling you right to your face that they’re cutting education because they want you to stay stupid. They don’t want you to know what’s good for your body, mind, or community, and they don’t want you to have a future, they just want you to consume the shit that they benefit from. They don’t want you to be rich, they want you to be butt-ass poor and in debt … That’s not my America.
On top of his talent and passion, he’s a witty, charming, and humble man who truly enjoys sharing his ideas. I first developed a real appreciation for him when he appeared on The Graham Norton Show with one of my favorite people, Miriam Margolyes. Their interaction is absolutely delightful and I dare anyone not to be in love with them both.
Before the age of 40, will.i.am has already made the world a better place and provided both example and opportunity to others. Who knows what else he will accomplish?