Fans of Usher Raymond IV view him as a singing, dancing and acting superstar.
But to a special group of young people, he is a mentor and a friend. “He leads by example,” said Arnold “Supa” LaFrance, a “Mogul in Training” at Usher’s Camp New Look. “Usher’s all about peace and love and giving back to the community, and it’s genuine. He does it when the cameras are on and when the cameras are off.” Now in its fifth year, the camp is a passion for the Grammy Award-winning artist, who each year gives more than a hundred teens from underserved communities across the country the opportunity to learn about the entertainment and sports industries. Thomas Springer, a 17-year-old Atlanta, Georgia, resident, has participated in the camp for four years and said he wants to use his talent in filmmaking and what he has learned at Camp New Look to help his community. “Before I came to camp, I didn’t think I had a voice in my community and that I could do anything based on my age,” Springer said. “The camp let me know that no matter what your age, no matter what you do, you can make an impact on your community.” Usher came to fame as a teen and has sold millions of records, including the hit singles “Yeah” and “Confessions II.” His success has allowed him to become part owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team and to launch his own line of fragrances for men and women. The camp, the singer said, teaches participants the business aspects of the entertainment and sports industries and imparts the importance of being service-oriented. A selection committee selects campers that are nominated by partner organizations in various cities across the country. Now the father of two young boys, Usher said he is also enriched by the camp’s experience. “It makes me a better man. It makes me a better individual,” he said. “There’s a difference between hard work and heart work, and this would represent heart work.” Watch Usher talk about his camp » As a youngster, Usher participated in the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and he said it helped shape his ideas about mentoring. “I think that the Boys & Girls Club is a very positive environment for kids,” he said. “It’s another place that allows you to be a product of your experience. I encountered a lot of people who became mentors for me there.” At this year’s closing ceremony for Usher’s Camp New Look, held at the Alliance Theater at Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta, the energy level was high as campers and their family members walked a red carpet alongside some of Usher’s celebrity friends, including NBA star Alonzo Mourning and San Francisco 49er Allen Rossum. The free, residential camp held for two weeks every summer in Atlanta is an outgrowth of Usher’s New Look Foundation, which he established to empower at-risk youth by giving them the skills necessary to enter careers in the sports and entertainment industries and working with them to provide employment opportunities. Mourning said Usher is one who understands that “to whom much is given, much is required.” “The service that Usher is providing for these kids with these educational opportunities and expanding their lives to a whole new level, it’s important that we all rally around these particular causes and support these initiatives,” Mourning said. Gabrielle Brou, 16, a first-year camper from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, who aspires to be an actress, said there were countless opportunities at camp to network with successful people who are living the lives she hopes to achieve. “Once I found out that there were ways I could better myself in acting, learn the business and also give back … I decided that this camp would be really great for me,” she said. “I would love to do it again next year.”
Having a day set aside for the campers and their families to revel in all that they have achieved and their future possibilities left Usher with a huge smile on his face. “It’s really good to see them be able to live out their dreams,” he said.