Thanks to a Boys & Girls Club activity, Usher’s mother learned pretty early on that something other than sports, might be the right career path for the future five-time Grammy winner.
They were back in Chattanooga, Tenn., where Usher Raymond IV was born. And a young Usher had asked his mom, Jonnetta Patton, to come see him play football. So of course, she goes — “only to find Usher on the sideline, eating cookies,” she recalled to a crowd gathered outside the Boys & Girls Clubs of America National Headquarters in midtown this afternoon.
“So you can guess, we rethought that career,” Patton continued.
But apparently the Boys & Girls Clubs stayed on Atlanta’s 40 million-selling recording artist’s mind.
And Wednesday the organization paid tribute to its famous alumnus by unveiling a billboard of Usher at six-years-old. It’s part of its “Be Great” campaign featuring Denzel Washington, Martin Sheen, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and other celebrities to increase awareness of the Clubs, and to encourage “every American to help young people be great.”
But first – when Usher got to the podium — he had to set the record straight about his mom’s recollection (kind of): “Football games aren’t just about the game,” he began with a smile. “You’ve got to enjoy the concessions. She didn’t say what kind of cookies they were: Oreos!”
After the billboard was unveiled on a truck — blocks away from where the real billboard had just gone up on Peachtree Road — Usher spent a few minutes discussing…
Who was iconic to him as a child, and now: “As a child my uncles, my cousins, I looked up to them,” said Usher, whose twist on the Boys & Girls Clubs campaign is “Be Iconic.” “And when I found the Boys & Girls Club, it was something more. Being able to be there with the counselors who would help you read, [and] to encourage you to do something active, but productive. To have people like Coach Dobbs — not many people know, but Coach Dobbs, was one of the members of the Boys & Girls Club who basically pushed us to be great. Whenever we had a difficult issue he would talk to us. He was a counselor. He was a friend. And he was the kind of the guy that would – in a very authoritative way – get you in line.”
“Now I consider Bono an icon. I consider Magic Johnson an icon. I consider Michael Jordan an icon. I consider Barack Obama an icon. I mean these are all obvious. But [Citigroup chairman and former Chairman of Time Warner] Dick Parsons is an icon to me. Russell Simmons is an icon to me. [Entertainment attorney] Virgil Roberts is an icon to me. ”
Whether he thinks the Hawks will meet the Cavaliers in the second round: “I would really like to see Atlanta match Cleveland,” said Usher, part-owner of the Cleveland franchise, “[but] they’ve got to step it up. Big time. And I know that they’re the type of team that can dig deep inside themselves and pull out a win. But it’s gonna take focus. They have a great team. An incredible coach. An incredible defensive strategy. And they have great players. So I hope for the best for Atlanta.”
Who he feels will end up the 2009 NBA champions: “Well, it would be wrong for me to say that Atlanta’s gonna take it all. I think that my partners would be shocked for me to say that. I think all of Cleveland would be shocked – Ohio – by me saying that. This is the moment that counts. This is when it’s real. This is the moment that makes champions. That makes masters. That makes kings.”
(As in LeBron “King” James, perhaps?)
Anyway, have you spotted Usher’s “Be Iconic” billboard on Peachtree yet? Did you know just last weekend he was working with the United Nations, through his New Look Foundation, to engage kids to help combat malaria? Looking forward to his next album?