John Legend launching mentoring program to encourage students to embrace individuality

John Legend met with students there to launch a new mentoring program encouraging people to embrace their individuality. (WSYX/WTTE)

Grammy award-winning artist John Legend played his latest gig in Columbus not in an arena but inside Centennial High School. The Ohio native met with students there to launch a new mentoring program encouraging people to embrace their individuality.

The program targets young men specifically to teach them what it means to be a man.

"We want to open that definition up and say there's no one way to be a man," Legend said before the show. "There's plenty of ways.We want each person to embrace their individuality and feel free to express themselves as an individual, not be constrained by any stereotypes society may have to offer."

He partnered with Axe, the body spray maker, as part of a national campaign to "find your magic". He mentored three students for weeks before Tuesday's event and then met with them before the show.

"We always think of celebrities as super big people but he's like a cool dude," said Kitano Watkins, one of the students Legend mentored. "He's a good guy."

All of them performed songs or poems they wrote about learning to be comfortable in their own skin. That's something they said was easier to do when they're following the lead of a celebrity.

"Him saying that, just being honest, just being humble, telling them, 'I've faced the same problems too', it gives people like, 'ah yeah I'm going through the same thing too,'" said Deiontay Bowie, one of the three students who met him. "It makes people more comfortable to come out of their shell."

Legend grew up in Springfield al he said he started the program in Ohio intentionally.

"We were looking at schools all over the country," Legend said. "I had a personal bias toward picking a school from Ohio."

He said he hoped inspiring students at Centennial to be themselves will help them be the best version of themselves.

"I'm an example of somebody that comes from an even smaller town, right from this area and was able to succeed and live out my wildest dream," he said.

Legend Skyped with the three students for weeks before Tuesday's events. Organizers said their goal was for the seniors to start mentoring the underclassmen and continue to pay it forward.

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