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Finding 'Common' ground with kids

updated 6:05 PM EDT, Mon October 3, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Grammy Award winner Common is reaching out to kids on Chicago's South Side
  • His Common Ground Foundation tries to help youth pursue their dreams
  • Common: 'A lot of my friends didn't have some of the opportunities I had'

Editor's note: Voting is under way for the 2011 CNN Hero of the Year. The winner will be announced at "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute," which airs live December 11 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT. See the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2011 and cast your vote at CNNHeroes.com.

(CNN) -- Hip-hop artist Common wants to create a supportive community for youths on Chicago's South Side. The Grammy Award winner started the Common Ground Foundation to help underserved youth develop leadership and life skills.

Common also performed at "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute" last year.

CNN's Allie Torgan recently spoke with him about CNN Heroes and his philanthropy. Below are excerpts:

Allie Torgan: What inspired you to start the Common Ground Foundation?

Common: I started (the foundation) with some of my team members because we wanted to give back to the youth who didn't have some of the opportunities we had.

The programs are really about building holistic people, children. We want them to be together and get educated on everything from health issues to just being allowed to be creative.

Everything that's necessary to build a complete human being, we try to issue in with the Common Ground Foundation. The kids get to do creative cooking, creative writing and then also get assisted in some of their academic work in school.

Torgan: Why is this cause important to you?

Common: I grew up on the South Side of Chicago with my mother and my stepfather, and I was provided a nice home, a home with love in it. And I felt a lot of my friends didn't have some of the opportunities I had. Also, they had loved ones who they had lost.

My whole life growing up, I was doing the little things that I could do (to help people). I would watch my mother do the things that she does. As a teacher, she's an educator and also would just go the extra mile to help people. Those are the traits that I picked up that made me say, "Hey, I want to do this because I have seen, throughout my life, people I love that didn't have the chance, that didn't have the opportunities I had."

Torgan: What's your goal for the kids?

Common: I want to empower the kids because there is a lot of gang violence and there is a lot of lack of love in the neighborhoods, and that starts in the home.

I want to empower them first by letting them know that they are loved and people do care. They might not have the parent, or one parent might be missing, or one parent might not be sufficient in raising them. But they have other people that do care. And somewhere within this village is somebody that's going to reach out and help give them a chance to pursue their dream.

So we empower them first by instilling some love in them and being their support system. And then we help to develop whatever their skills are. We want to prepare them to be able to go out into the world and do things for themselves so they can be leaders. It's about being their leader. You got to lead yourself first.

Torgan: What was it like performing at "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute" last year?

Common: (It) was an incredible experience. I felt distinguished being there, because there were so many people who really cared about things.

My mother told me before going there: getting invited there, that is an important place to be because that is where a lot of people that do the real work are. These are people who do work for real in the world helping people. And it was super-inspiring to me. I have to step up more, because you see people who dedicate their lives to helping others.

Being able to perform with John Legend and Melanie Fiona was a great experience. I was like, "I want to go back, I need to get invited back." But more than anything, I was grateful to be there and observe people and honor the people that were selected to be CNN Heroes, because it was well deserved and they inspired us all.

Torgan: What is a hero to you?

Common: A hero to me is someone who is able to take whatever talent, gift, personality, quality and utilize it to help build others. And obviously a hero has done it to build themselves to a certain level. But you use the plateau you reached and you say, "Hey, I can do something for other people to help them to get to the same place I got to." So I look at a hero as somebody who is willing to sacrifice that and go back and reach out for others.

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