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Usher: My Mother Inspired Me to Give Back

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Kurt Iswarienko

Usher‘s mother, Jonetta Patton, encouraged her son to make a difference from a very young age.

“Any time there was a local campaign, we would use our voice to help influence others to elect the officials who we thought were best,” he tells PEOPLE. “Those [experiences] showed me that I had power.”

When he was 20 years old, Usher decided to bring that message of empowerment to youth through his foundation, Usher’s New Look, which he created with Patton.

“It started as a result of me wanting to do something positive,” says the singer, 35. “My mother really supported me and taught me that the most influential role model a child can have is another child because they speak the same language.”

The idea of youth empowering youth is the cornerstone of Usher’s New Look, which encourages young people to take on leadership roles and find a career they are passionate about through an online curriculum, mentoring and camp programs.

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Usher and his New Look Youth Leaders at their 2012 World Leadership Conference
Andrew H. Walker/Getty
“Ultimately, what I want to do is give these kids who have come from impoverished areas a new look on life,” The Voice coach says. “If I can make them aware of their options in life, chances are they are going to do something positive and will share experiences with others. I’ve invested so much in youth because they can lead the charge to change.”

In the 15 years since its founding, Usher’s New Look has certified 21,000 young people as leaders who are encouraged to bring positive messages back to their communities. One hundred percent of New Look participants have graduated high school, and 98 percent have gone on to higher education or job placement.

“I feel like it’s my duty,” Usher says of helping others through his foundation, in which he actively participates as a mentor. “As a result of being blessed, why not be a blessing to someone else?”

For more of our interview with Usher, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

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