‘I wouldn’t change my past if you gave me a trillion dollars,’ will.i.am says on his humble beginnings

Philanthropist and entertainer will.i.am spoke of the values he learned from his family and his community as a child, saying there was nothing he would change about his upbringing.

“I wouldn’t change my past if you gave me a trillion dollars,” he told CNBC’s Tania Bryer at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday.

“If you say here, here’s a trillion dollars, give me your memories of the past or this trillion bucks. Like nah, I’ll keep my memories of the past,” he said.

“You can’t take that from me, you can’t take my love for my community, my love for my neighbors, that was beautiful,” will.i.am added.

When he was a child, his mother signed their family up to hand out food to poor families in their neighborhood, he explained. “The one thing poor people don’t want is when rich people come and give them food. So, my family signed up to give the free food to the poor families, and we were one of the poor families,” he said in the interview.

“As crazy as that may sound that that was a horrible life to live, it was a beautiful life experience because everyone was poor, but we were all there for one another,” he added.

Growing up, he saw what his mother was doing and the difference she was making but did not think he could have a similar impact, he said.

Will.i.am now advocates for more STEAM education in the form of extra-curricular activities, tutoring and dedicated preparatory schools for children and teenagers living in areas like the one he grew up in through his i.am/Angel Foundation. Many of the students in the program go on to high-ranking colleges and study engineering-related degrees, will.i.am told CNBC.

In 2016, he won the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award, which honors artists that could function as role models for world leaders.

The organization has recently also worked with several other organizations and official bodies to provide internet access to students to enable them study from home at no cost, the artist explained.

During the coronavirus pandemic, many parents could no longer afford wi-fi as they suddenly had higher expenses for food as their children no longer received free breakfast and lunch in school, he added.

“Connectivity should be a human right like drinking water on tap. It’s there, and connectivity should be looked at the same,” will.i.am said.

(With Inputs from cnbc)

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