“I’m not able to be as politically correct as my sister,” Cee Lo Green said, breaking into a wide smile.
The Atlanta-born musician/celebrity/TV judge made his lighthearted comment in an unlikely location – standing behind a podium in the back of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy Friday morning.
Green was back home for the groundbreaking ceremony of the GreenHouse Foundation, the non-profit organization he co-founded with sister Shedonna Alexander.
The mission of their philanthropic effort is to make “green education” more accessible to students in underserved school districts. The presentation took place in front of the donated “greenhouse” area where the school’s students have been tending to and growing vegetables.
Green – born Thomas DeCarlo Callaway – is an alum of SACA and later smiled again when asked how long it had been since his last visit to the school.
“Awhile,” he said.
But Friday’s two-hour ceremony provided plenty of opportunities for Green, his family, local dignitaries and long-ago-seen friends to reunite.
“What a fantastic feeling to see so many familiar faces,” Green said, pulling up a prepared speech on his Blackberry. “I hope I’ve made you laugh. I hope I’ve made you cry. I hope I’ve made you think. I hope I’ve made you wonder. I also hope that I’m encouraging you today…it’s not just a thought, it’s an action.”
Alexander said that she and her brother were motivated to “fill [the] great shoes” of their late mother, Sheila Callaway Tyler, and grandmother Ruby Callaway Robinson, who was in attendance.
“Our babies need this garden,” Alexander said of the greenery growing behind where she stood, addressing her comments to the school children and teachers assembled among the invited crowd.
After the event, Alexander said it was a blessing to have her 80-year-old grandmother there to witness the official arrival of the non-profit.
“Today was my first time seeing her stand up [Robinson has been ill since April]. She’s everybody’s baby doll,” Alexander said.
Those “big shoes to fill” mentioned by Green and Alexander wasn’t a dramatic statement, as their family history is noteworthy.
Robinson was a tremendous activist decades ago, first starting the non-profit Comprehensive Auxiliary for Southwest Community on Alcohol and Drug Education and in 1986 organizing a national “Just Say No” kids march.
The siblings’ mother, meanwhile, served as one of the first female firefighters with the Atlanta Fire Department.
Representatives from the city and fire department, including Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvan Cochran, were on hand to present photos and a proclamation in honor of Tyler to Green and his sister (“My linen shirt is sweatin’ on my proclamation pictures,” Green quipped as photogs snapped and he tried not to melt in the sticky air).
The greenhouse is dedicated to Tyler’s memory.
The event, hosted by an amiable Art Terrell of KISS 104.1-FM, also included a stirring performance of a spiritual from renowned Atlanta jazz singer Kathleen Bertrand and a speech from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who called Green “my man.”
The GreenHouse Foundation also plans to launch other initiatives including an Atlanta Green Day, the Greenhouse Community Gardens Program and a Green Collar Career Development Program.
Although the day was strictly about the siblings’ philanthropic effort, things briefly went off script after a student performed a snippet of John Mayer’s “No Such Thing.”
Terrell joked that since a judge from “The Voice” was present, he might as well give a critique of the young man’s performance.
Green happily took the mic and said to the kid, “You’ve got so much charisma, man. We applaud your talent. You sounded wonderful.”
A fitting comment on a day dedicated to empowering a younger generation.