Quincy Jones knows that young people aren't only at risk in the inner cities of the United States: It's a global problem, not one confined to any one nation or any type of neighborhood. It's also a problem that governments haven't been able to solve, and one he takes seriously enough to have started the Quincy Jones Listen Up Foundation (now simply the Quincy Jones Foundation) in 1991 to "confront the state of emergency that currently threatens the world's youth." Its projects have ranged from "From South Central to South Africa," which sent five Los Angeles youths to build homes in South Africa, to developing a curriculum about black music in America for more than 100,000 classrooms. And it's not just about reaching out to gangs and students, but also starting a "Q Fellowship Program" for, in Quincy's words, giving "a future generation of African entrepreneurs and social innovators vital exposure to the private, public, and non-profit sectors that are at the forefront of the rapidly changing technological landscape. The 'Q Fellows' will in turn be able to apply that knowledge and use technology in their communities to develop lasting economic viability."
Quincy Jones has been especially active in South Africa, and its work there has enhanced the strong friendship between Quincy and Nelson Mandela, the great anti-apartheid leader and former president of the nation. "With Nelson Mandela, we go to his home for dinner, we visit the children with HIV and see them in debates about abstinence versus condoms and all that stuff," he says. "South Africa has been through it now. Last year they had 25,000 murders, 60 percent were women, and that's a country of 40 million people. I've seen what they've accomplished in those roughest times, you can't even imagine." As for Mandela himself, as Quincy notes in admiration, "I don't know what it takes to go through what he went through and not be angry, and violent, and destructive or resentful ... Maybe he's found the power of converting darkness into light." One of the Quincy Jones Foundation's most celebrated projects is one in which Quincy himself got to participate, helping prove it doesn't always take great numbers to make a great difference on both sides of the ocean. Nelson Mandela, Quincy explains, "asked me to co-host a visit to children with HIV in the Northwest Province [of South Africa] years ago. I had promised Mandela 100 homes that we would build wherever he said."
So in 2001, Quincy "decided to take five gang-bangers from the South Central [Los Angeles], and we called it 'South Central to South Africa.' We took them over there, girls, boys, Latin and black, hardcore, dopers and everything. And in ten days, 10,000 miles from home, they understood the spirit of Ubuntu, which is the spirit of South Africa, which means that the collective is always more important than the individual. To see this woman who had lived in a cardboard box with no water, electricity, all these years walk into her own home with a stove, electric lights and everything else—it doesn't get any better than that."
After just ten days in South Africa, these tough, seen-it-all kids from South Central got down on their knees and cried like babies when they met Nelson Mandela.