Master P and Ameer visit Booker T. Washington in New Orleans

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30 November 2010

Inside his old high school gym in Central City, rap impresario Percy “Master P” Miller on Wednesday asked more than 150 students to raise their hands if they had plans to go to college.

Devin McFadden, 16, left his hands down.

“What’s wrong? Why don’t you want to go to college?” Miller asked. Devin, with about 300 eyeballs locked on him, joked, “I just didn’t feel like raising my hand.”

An impassioned Miller warned, “You got to know what you want. … Half the guys I grew up with are dead or in prison. They all didn’t know what they wanted.”

Miller, along with local actor Ameer Baraka and California businessman Johnel Langerston, met with students at Hope Academy, a state-run alternative school operating on the old Booker T. Washington High School campus. Langerston is president of Urban Born, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that sponsored the talk.

The trio told the students that the key to success is identifying a career they cared about, and getting an education in that field, a plan that worked for all three despite their violent, impoverished upbringings.

Baraka, 40, who spoke first, served time as a teen at a correctional center after being convicted of manslaughter. At 23, he was convicted of attempting to possess cocaine and received a four-year prison sentence.

“Ameer was a hard child to raise,” said Antoinette Harris, his mother, who spoke to the students at her son’s request. “He put me through so much pain and anguish.”

Baraka, a former resident of the B.W. Cooper housing development, said it was in prison that he realized how deeply he had wounded his mother. He moved to Los Angeles in search of a career, found modeling, and signed a one-year contract with Miller, the CEO of an entertainment and financial conglomerate.

He appeared in several of the rapper’s music videos and earned a supporting role in the 2002 movie, “The New Guy,” where he worked alongside well-known actresses Eliza Dushku and Zooey Deschanel. He also landed guest spots on shows such as “ER,” “The Unit” and the locally-filmed “Treme.”

“Mom, I apologize for all the hurt and pain I caused you,” Baraka told Harris. He embraced her, and as the students clapped, he promised, “I love you. I won’t ever cause that again.”

Langerston said he dealt drugs growing up in Oakland, Calif. That venture failed after he was caught and shipped to federal prison for a decade.

There, he committed to teaching himself at least one new word each day, until he studied the entire dictionary.

“God as my witness, you will feel powerful in one year,” said Langerston, who added that his deep knowledge of English words helped him earn respect from those he dealt with while starting up his business venture. “Imagine how it felt after 10 years. … I felt no one could compete with me!”

The students applauded Langerston, but they made it clear that the star of the presentation was Miller. When he entered the gym, they serenaded him with his most famous lyric, “Make ’em say uhh!”

Miller, wearing a black warm-up suit, referenced his humble childhood, growing up with his grandmother in the B.W. Cooper and earning A’s and B’s at Washington High. He alluded to the demise of his loved ones — one of his brothers, Kevin, was killed when a heroin-addicted acquaintance tried to rob him. Another of his brothers, rapper Corey “C-Murder” Miller, began serving a life sentence after being convicted of killing a teenager in a Harvey nightclub.

Despite that, Miller managed to record No. 1 albums and establish the No Limit entertainment empire. He dabbled in professional basketball and was once the nation’s tenth highest-paid entertainer, ahead of Celine Dion, Garth Brooks, Sean “Diddy” Combs and the Spice Girls.

Miller, 43, educated himself about solid business practices at his peak to help himself protect the living he earned, he told the students.

“Without education, you may have to give all your money away to someone else,” Miller said. “Who wants to do that? It makes no sense.”


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