"I feel her presence more than ever, I feel like she's always with me," Big Sean tells PEOPLE of his grandmother

By Tiare Dunlap
Updated January 08, 2016 07:55 PM

A proud son of Detroit, Sean Anderson, a.k.a. Big Sean, is giving back to his hometown in a huge way.

The Grammy nominee started the Sean Anderson Foundation to improve the lives of young people in the Michigan city in the same way he feels his life was improved by the women in his family.

“Growing up in the city I was lucky enough to have somebody in the community who was a positive influence for me,” Anderson, 27, tells PEOPLE. “I was lucky to have my mom, I was lucky to have my grandma, these were all tremendous, smart people.”

“What I wanted to do was just provide opportunity for the kids who don’t have that insight, who don’t really know the type of positions that they can get in to,” he continues.

The foundation supports local charities in initiatives combating youth homelessness, improving educational access and outcomes and providing arts programming. Giving back to the community has been a part of Anderson’s life since long before he became a successful rapper.

“It’s the way I was brought up,” he explains. “My mom and my grandma, we grew up in debt, we had no major opportunities and we always donated to the Salvation Army, we were always in church giving back.”

Today, he continues to give back alongside his mom, Myra Anderson, who helps run the foundation.

“My mom, she’s definitely the brains behind the operation, she really dedicates 100 percent of her life to it and she’s the reason why it has progressed so much. [She’s why] we’ve been able to do things around the city that no one else has been able to,” he says.

He says the foundation honors the legacy of his grandmother, Mildred V. Leonard, who was among the first female black captains in World War II and later became a police officer and a teacher.

“I feel her presence more than ever, I feel like she’s always with me,” Anderson says. “She always just kept it positive. All the little things she used to tell me I listened. When I pray at night, when I meditate in the morning, when I do all those things I always think about her.”

To learn more, visit the Sean Anderson Foundation website.