Touring Coca-Cola’s Atlanta headquarters for the first time makes multi-faceted entertainer Tyrese Gibson a little emotional. Walking through those halls takes him back to appearing in that memorable commercial for the global beverage brand two-plus decades ago with the young, up-and-coming star harmonizing a jingle on a bus.
His television debut paid him residuals exceeding $100, which was the most money he had ever seen at that point. Now Tyrese wants to help others accomplish their dreams. The six-time Grammy-nominated vocalist and founder of his own youth empowerment nonprofit #TheLoveCircle rejoined his Coca-Cola connection as the celebrity ambassador for its Pay It Forward program.
Pay It Forward awards $5,000 scholarships to up to 25 youth in grades nine through 12 between the ages of 13 and 18. The recipients and their legal guardian attend its accompanying Pay It Forward Academy. Candidates may be nominated by a mentor or self-nominate.
Upon his entry into the conference room for an informal half-hour conversation, Tyrese reiterates how his reunion with Coca-Cola is a privilege because it’s a reminder of his humble beginnings. “Prayers have been answered with me being back with my original family,” says the singer behind the chart-topping LP Black Rose. “My life has been changed forever, so I want to do something to benefit others.”
Seated with his legs crossed at the center of a U-shaped table, the star of films like Baby Boy, Waist Deep, Four Brothers and several installments of the Fast & Furious franchise hints at still having aspirations to pursue higher education to concentrate on business administration and marketing. Following high school graduation, he embarked on his recording career instead of pursuing higher education. The closest program to Pay It Forward that Tyrese was involved in growing up in Watts, South Central Los Angeles was M.O.L.D., or Men of Locke Delegation.
Named after his alma mater, Alain Locke High School, the male participants in M.O.L.D. regularly convened to discuss how to improve their school and community. M.O.L.D. was also the only outreach effort Tyrese had access to at the time. Because of the limited programming offered in Tyrese’s community, the member of the R&B supergroup TGT knows the importance of having visible roles models in the lives of young people.
“Paying it forward is not always financial,” insists the passionate soul singer. “Paying it forward is being willing to have a conversation with somebody when they’re going through a rough patch. It’s seeing value.”
Tyrese continues, “It’s not lonely at the top if you help somebody else get there. When you know what you want to do, you lead the pack. As you figure out what you want to be, it’s important to surround yourself with like-minded people that will keep you encouraged.”
Before delving into the motivation for giving back. Tyrese takes a few moments to plug the release of his music video trilogy, The Black Book, available on WorldStarHipHop and Revolt TV. The project shot over three days in Los Angeles marks Tyrese’s directorial debut. Just before he makes that announcement, the extremely chatty singer, wearing a million-dollar smile to match the blooming flower on his well-tailored, polka dot navy blue tuxedo jacket, elaborates on why it’s important for youth to stay focused on their goals.
He hopes young people especially can solely concentrate on achieving excellence and including their families along on their journey. “It’s so much harder to find love now, to focus on education and to be mission and goal-oriented now,” says Tyrese. Tyrese notes that his frequent posts on social media to his millions of followers are often gimmicky and fun. Still, he says he takes his followers seriously, referring to his fans as his “congregation.”
“We have so much more access to distractions that we ever did. It’s really hard to not remember or focus on what you’re doing. Because of the amount of distraction, kids need to have their parents move into the direction of education that’s fun where you feel like you’re learning, but you don’t realize it.”
Tyrese recently gave $50,000 to a young man from Compton, currently enrolled at Morehouse College, to assist with his tuition. The 37-year-old best-selling author and co-host of OWN’s It’s Not You, It’s Men along with Rev. Run, his best friend of eight years, mentors young performer Gabi Wilson via BET’s First Taste with Coca-Cola.
“I make kings and queens,” states Tyrese. “I don’t play the game of quitting. There are only so many people that have the will power and the mental and spiritual audacity to stay the course. When you’re not struggling by yourself, you can help each other up.”
A few of Tyrese’s peers, he recalls, thought he was crazy to step back into the Coca-Cola culture in a philanthropic capacity. The productive entrepreneur that has a restaurant on his estate and owns an independent record label and production company, Voltron, aspires to have Coca-Cola increase the scholarship amount in the near future. He’s extremely comfortable with being the Pay It Forward ambassador and an humanitarian for now.
Tyrese says he isn’t quite sure if what he says or does for young people will make them smile but knows that hard work and dedication are what yields success. “My work ethic and my drive every single day is of a man who hasn’t accomplished anything,” confirms an upright Tyrese scratching his chin.
“It’s not too many people that can outwork me or keep up, but the way I pay it forward is simple. Everyone has those weak moments, but we have a responsibility to make people aware of things. Paying it forward is what it’s about for me at this point. It’s a great start.”
The deadline to apply for the Coca-Cola Pay It Forward program is March 31. Log onto the website for more details.
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.