For many millennials, it’s hard to imagine a childhood without the boomings beats and unforgettable rhymes of Lil Jon’s hit songs like “Get Low” and “Turn Down for What.” Well, according to the rapper, you can thank his music teacher for the iconic infectious throwbacks — and his long, illustrious career in the music industry.
“It was my music teacher [who inspired me to dream bigger],” Lil Jon tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I wanted to play drums and if I didn't play drums, I wouldn't make music and drums are the foundation for what I do.”
Lil Jon isn’t alone.
When reflecting on the influential people who helped guide us on a path to success or helped shape who we are today, a teacher — or two — would likely make many shortlists. With as much time as children spend in school, teachers are often the primary caregivers outside the home.
Despite the critical role that educators play in raising the next generation, America’s teachers are in crisis: they are struggling with low salaries that don’t pay the bills, threatened by classroom violence and battling mental health issues from anxiety to suicidal thoughts.
As teachers leave the classroom for good for these reasons and more, celebrities and education advocates reflect on the teachers that they say helped them get to where they are today.
At the annual Pencils of Promise Gala, over 500 education advocates across every industry from finance to entertainment gathered at the sumptuous Cipriani Wall Street in New York City dressed in ball gowns and black tie to raise money for the non-profit that has built over 500 schools in Laos, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Ghana.
After spending years backpacking around the world handing out supplies to children, Pencils of Promise (PoP) founder, Adam Braun, (brother of Scooter Braun, the talent manager and record executive who discovered Justin Bieber) started the non-profit nearly 11 years ago to provide quality and holistic education programs to underprivileged children led by leaders and members within their own community — including its teachers.
Former professional football player Lewis Howes, who serves on the education non-profit’s advisory board, reveals he almost flunked out of high school English. But thanks to the encouragement and dedication of one of his high school teachers, Howes would go on to play Arena Football, write a New York Times best-selling book and build a multi-million dollar online media company.
“I couldn't read and write in high school,” Howes tells Yahoo Lifestyle at the Pencils of Promise Gala in New York City. “But I had an English teacher, and she was really there for me every day after class. So without her, I wouldn't be standing here.”
Tanya Ramos, the CEO of Pencils of Promise, also echoes the sentiment, recalling how her teacher’s encouragement and investment helped lead her down a path of success.
“I still remember my first teacher, Mrs. Gurrera — I would not be where I'm at today had it not been her investment in my growth and just enabling me to thrive daily,” Ramos tells Yahoo Lifestyle. For this reason, Ramos says it’s “horrific” to see so many teachers in the U.S unsupported and under-resourced.
“I think that it's horrific not to ensure that we're making an investment into those individuals that are working daily. They are the ones that are playing an integral role in ensuring that our kids are prepared for life beyond school,” says Ramos.
“I can think back to a high school English teacher who really believed in me and pushed me to see a version of myself that I didn't even realize was there yet, and I think that's something that many great teachers possess,” says Braun.
Driven by the belief that students will perform better if classrooms are led by enthusiastic, inspired and well-trained teachers, the non-profit’s work also includes a teacher support program to provide educators with training, mentors and resources.
“When you build four walls, that's the start to ensure that there's a safe and sustainable environment for children to learn within. But ultimately, it's the impact of the teacher on the child's life that can really be most transformative,” Braun tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “In all parts of the world, we need to value the role of a teacher and the profession of a teacher and support our teachers to the best of our abilities.”
Thanks to its work, the global non-profit has garnered the support of high-profile figures including One Tree Hill actress Sophia Bush, who sits on the advisory board, businesswoman Bozoma St. John, who now serves as the organization’s first global ambassador, and, of course, Scooter Braun. Meanwhile, rapper Lil Jon has built two schools in Ghana with the organization thus far and was honored at this year’s gala for his support of the organization.
“I’ve been involved with PoP – both building schools in Ghana with them and attending their annual gala – for years now,” says Lil Jon, who was honored by PoP alongside The Daily Show host Trevor Noah and the founders of the charity Karmagawa, Timothy Sykes and Mattheau Abad. “They do incredible work, and for them to honor me this year is amazing.”
While Lil Jon has worked to support the education of children internationally, he says he recognizes the work that still needs to be done at home in the U.S.
“The teachers teach the children that are going to take care of us. These are our future leaders, doctors, lawyers. So, they need to have everything in their arsenal to teach these kids,” says Lil Jon. “We definitely have to take care of our teachers more. Raise the pay. Give them the tools they need. So, I'm all about empowering teachers even more.”
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