Usher's Heart Work [Interview with Usher Raymond]

The pop superstar hands down a lesson of mentoring and gives struggling kids a new outlook.

Usher Raymond IV carries a small silver humidor filled with the finest cigars. He owns a pair of every Air Jordan shoes released.

He has a stable of luxury cars, owns homes on multi-acre properties and can’t show his face in public without inciting rabid, screaming fans. Over a nearly 20-year career, he has earned pop superstardom.

But in the late ’80s, in a room full of rowdy kids at the Boys & Girls Club in Chattanooga, Tenn., 11-year-old Usher was just hanging out, shooting hoops, and learning how to be a leader rather than another statistic from his impoverished neighborhood. The young man, destined to become a multi-platinum recording artist, actor and businessman, needed the safe haven of that after-school club to keep him off the streets and away from potential dangers: drugs, gangs, violence.

“At a young age, I found a great influence in being in places like the Boys & Girls Club,” says Usher, now 31, in his trademark tenor. “I think that’s where my mentoring—the vision of mentoring started—having elders mentor my development. You know, there were a few people that took a liking to me and helped me to develop myself as an artist.”

Today, the father of two, part owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and winner of five Grammy Awards, four American Music Awards and 17 Billboard Music Awards, traces his worldwide success back to those early days and the persistent support of his mother, Jonetta Patton. “I do have to attribute a lot of it to having an incredible parent and incredible mentors around me that helped me because I was so intrigued about life and wanted to do something that would be meaningful,” he tells SUCCESS. “When I look at people who have built legacies that they’ve left behind for their families, or a legacy that they’ve left behind for art and culture, it started from that place.”

The Beginning of a Brand

Despite their poverty, Usher, his mother and younger brother, James, led a musically rich life. Gifted early with a powerful voice, 9-year-old Usher sang in the choir at St. Elmo Missionary Baptist Church in Chattanooga. When Patton remarried and the family moved to Atlanta, Usher entered the TV talent contest "Star Search," where he won Best Teen Male Vocalist at age 12.

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