Gift for a Child…NE-YO!

10 06 2010

This post is going to be rather lengthy; so I apologize ahead of time, Mr. Jones, and will keep most of my future posts to a shorter format.  However, I would be remiss in expounding upon my adventure of the last two days without discussing the many exciting events I was photographing.  Actually, it was one event with many components.  Gift for a Child, Inc., in partnership with the Georgia Independent Living Association presented “Real Life Prep for High School Graduates” at the annual Higher Education Institute in Atlanta, GA.  This event was directed towards graduating high school youth who are leaving the foster care system and included 250 foster youth from across the state of Georgia.  The kids attending this event walked in knowing only those who had crossed their paths in difficult situations but left feeling loved, uplifted, educated about the future and more prepared to attack it with gusto.  The workshops they attended provided real life scenarios including budgeting, purchasing, housing, higher education, healthy living and credit vs. cash and taught them important life skills in dealing with each scenario.  I photographed the registration process, the team building exercise,  the talent show, The Compound Foundation Workshop, the Celebration of Excellence graduation ceremony and the Casino After-Party.  For security reasons, I will not be able to use images of the youth on this blog or any other media without written consent.  That being said, I do have images of public figures I will be able to use; and I do have a story to tell about the celebrity I listened to for most of Wednesday.

NE-YO, have you heard of him?  Well, I hadn’t; but now that I know where he came from, what he’s doing and where he plans to go, I’m very proud to say I have met him.  Ne-Yo may never see this blog because he says, “I don’t read other people’s blogs because nothing positive has ever been written about me.”  I would like to be the one to prove him wrong.  Ne-Yo and his business partner, Reynell Hay, established The Compound Foundation in order to share their success with the kids in the child welfare system.  I sat in on four sessions as Ne-Yo and his Mom, Lorraine Smith, shared their story, which I would love to share snippets of with you.

Lorraine was in an abusive marriage and divorced her husband to raise their two children alone.  As a single mother, she succumbed to the welfare program in order to feed, clothe and house her small family.  Their were times they had no money for bills and utilities were cut off; they had to use emergency candles for light, which they have now been able to replace with chandeliers.  Through the bad times, Lorraine drew her strength and her reason for living from her children, Chimere (Ne-Yo) and Nicole.  She encouraged them to pursue the things for which they had a passion.  Ne-Yo was an artistic soul, even at a young age, and once, with his Mother’s permission, drew murals on his and his Nicole’s bedroom walls.  Because they were living in government subsidized housing, they had to paint over them before the inspector could see his handiwork.  Ne-Yo’s first job was at McDonald’s, from where he was fired for not cooking the french fries properly.  His second job was at Pizza Hut, from where he was fired for putting too many pepperoni’s on the pizzas.  His Mom was never upset with him, even though family income was lost, because she knew he had not yet found his niche.  His third job, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, gave him the passion he still pursues today.  Working for a back up band playing for a headliner, he discovered the joy of anything music.  Although there were musicians in his background, he did not realize how passionate it ran through his veins until this point in his life.  His Mom knew he was hooked when he continued to work in the same venue even when he was not being paid.

One day Ne-Yo asked his Mom for a four-track. Not knowing what a four-track was; they went to the music store and found one that cost about $400.00. To a single Mom having difficulty paying her $35.00/month rent, $400.00 seemed almost unattainable; but little-by-little the money was saved and the purchase made.  To this day, Ms. Smith claims it was the best $400.00 she ever spent!

Ne-Yo, after graduating high school, had a plan.  He and his band buddies decided to move to LA and play every day outside the Capitol Records building where they hoped the president would hear them and insist they sign with the company.  They acted on that plan, living in their van, only to be told every day by the security guard to move along.  After 12 years of knocking on doors, being told ‘no,’ and continuing to hone his craft, Ne-Yo became an over-night sensation….yeah, right, over-night!  Yes, I said 12….long…years…of hard work, perseverance and passion have finally begun to show some fruit.

Ne-Yo is an award winning musician with his heart in the right place.  He spent almost 12 hours with these foster youth yesterday, encouraging and empowering them for the future.  He and his Mom answered questions, candidly and with insight, because they’d ‘been there, done that.’  He told the kids, “I was you; and you can be me,” because he had come from a background similar to many of the kids to whom he spoke; yet he was able to encourage them to seek out their passion and pursue it with gusto, even when others tell them ‘no’ or give up on them.

I’m a big fan of Ne-Yo, not because of his music…because I’ve still never heard any of his songs or read his lyrics, but because this man gave an extraordinary gift to a group of  kids who needed some support.  Thank you to Ne-Yo and Lorraine, for taking time out of your busy and hectic schedules to mean something to the youth of today.  When you hear Ne-Yo’s name, regardless of what you think of his music, I hope you will remember him for his contribution to society through the kids in the foster care system.  Oh yeah, he stood at the front of the Georgia State Rialto Auditorium last night for about an hour and had his picture made with each of the 265 graduates who crossed the stage to receive their diplomas.  TTFN SDG




5 responses

11 06 2010
al cave

What a great story! I hope he reads your article!

16 06 2010

Well, I have so many things to say about your article…
Firstly, I am one of Ne-Yo’s fan (maybe he has millions of fans all over the world). I live in Paris so I’m French and I really love him for what he does like “artist”: his voice, his music and his beautiful touching lyrics…I everytime said “I know everything about Ne-Yo because I’ve a website about him and I tell to the other fans his life everyday” but this story, this old story about Shaffer Chimere Smith and what he did before he became NE-YO, I didn’t know it. But at the end I didn’t know a lot of things about Ne-Yo and I’m glad to come to your blog and read your article (maybe I have to say: Try to read because my English is so bad!). I have a different point of view about Ne-Yo right now, I love him more than before just because he is not one of those stupid singers, he has a lot of passion and openness… He is so nice… I’m happy to see you appreciate him too.
I don’t know if you understand everything on my comment, I’m so sorry lol. But I find your article very beautiful (I love the pictures) and I love the way you wrote his story. It was a good lesson for me to come here, so thank you 😉
Like we say in France: Bonne journée !

17 06 2010

Thank you so much for your kind words. I am so glad you enjoyed the blog and learned something new about Ne-Yo. He really is a kind and talented soul. Best wishes!

23 06 2010
Tameka Pero Photography

Thanks for sharing this story! Sounds like you had an awesome time and got some good shots as well.

27 06 2010
Harriette Davis

What an inspiring and great article!!!! Ne-Yo, his mother and the Compound Foundation are angels for these young people, to give them direction to go forward in life and attain their goals. Unfortunately, this is not the case everywhere. Cheers and continue success, and may God shine down on them always!!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: