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John Legend awarded United Nations human rights prize for social justice work

Artist has initiated a campaign for criminal justice reform as part of his advocacy work

Clémence Michallon
New York City
Thursday 10 December 2020 16:15 GMT
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John Legend attends Netflix’s ‘Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey’ drive-in premiere on 13 November 2020 in Los Angeles, California
John Legend attends Netflix’s ‘Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey’ drive-in premiere on 13 November 2020 in Los Angeles, California (Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Netflix)

John Legend has been awarded a human rights prize by the United Nations’ human rights arm in recognition of his social justice advocacy work.

The artist was announced on Thursday as the 2020 recipient of the High Note Global Prize, of which the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN’s leading human rights organisation, is the global partner.

Last year’s recipient was Cyndi Lauper. This is the second year the prize has been awarded.

The distinction aims to “celebrate an iconic artist who has promoted social justice for over a decade”.

Legend has long been an advocate for social justice. One of his most recent initiatives, the FREEAMERICA campaign, focuses on ending mass incarceration and promoting criminal justice reform.

In 2007, Legend launched the Show Me campaign focusing on education. The campaign now also has an arm dedicated to reducing mass incarceration, created in 2015.

Legend is also an adviser on the Bail Project, which helps free people who are held on bail in the US.

The artist said in a released statement he’s “both proud and humbled” to be this year’s recipient.

“I believe in the power of music to inspire us, to connect our hearts, to give voice to feelings for which words alone won’t suffice, to wake us up out of complacency, to galvanise and fuel social movements,” he added.

“Artists have a rich tradition of activism. We have a unique opportunity to reach people where they are, beyond political divisions, borders, and silos. And it’s been my privilege to use my voice and my platform to advance the cause of equity and justice.”

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