Originally published on Billboard.com March 15th 2016
It’s been a blessing not just for the kids, but for all of us,” 5H’s Normani Kordei says after talking with King/Drew Magnet School students.
Despite Fifth Harmony‘s hectic schedule and continuing success on the charts — including current top 20 Billboard Hot 100 hit “Work from Home” featuring Ty Dolla $ign — the group’s five young singers still make time to give back.
On Monday, Fifth Harmony came to Compton, California’s King/Drew Magnet School for a mentoring session sponsored by Urban Fitness 911, a Los Angles philanthropic organization addressing issues of disparity in health, fitness and academic skills among teens in low-income communities (the program was born out of a West Hollywood SoulCycle class, but that’s another story… ).
“The whole program is about opportunity and showing these kids that they can be something, they can do something,” says Veronica Everett-Boyce, the founder, executive director and driving force behind the non-profit program. “People expect kids to know that and they don’t.”
Fifth Harmony with King Drew High School students enrolled in the Urban Fitness 911 program in Compton, CA. (Courtesy)
5H’s Ally Brooke, Normani Kordei, Dinah Jane, Camila Cabello and Lauren Jauregui sat informally on the edge of the high school auditorium’s stage before some 70 teenagers who eagerly asked a variety of questions about their rise to stardom and its many trappings. The pop sensations’ candid and inspiring answers included stories of personal struggle, triumph and ultimately growth eliciting tears from both band and high schoolers alike.
“At 6 years old, my mom and I made the decision to completely start over,” said Camila Cabello, 19, who immigrated to the United States because of hardships her family faced in Cuba and Mexico. Cabello spoke of these challenges that included leaving her father behind in Mexico, having only the “clothes on [her] back” and setting off to a foreign land where she knew nothing of its language or culture. The singer encouraged the rapt students before her to “not be defined by circumstances” and to “fight ruthlessly for your passions and dreams.”
Bandmate Lauren Jauregui, 19, discussed a personal tragedy in her family. “Last year, on the same day that our first album dropped, my grandmother passed away,” explained a tearful Jauregui. Though she had a packed schedule of performances and promotion and the “industry telling [her] this is the priority,” she knew instinctively the right place for her was at home with her family.
5H’s Ally Brooke, 22, echoed a similar sentiment as she recalled losing her grandfather while both caring for her ailing mother and competing on X Factor, the show that brought Fifth Harmony together. “Your loved ones and family are a priority always,” she said.
The Urban Fitness students were clearly inspired by the girl group’s messages. “We saw another side to celebrities we don’t typically see,” said Matthew Whitaker, 17, a King Drew senior. “They shared experiences and life lessons with us that opened us up to another viewpoint we don’t see very often. They showed us that they’re people too.”
Jasmine, Williams, 18, concurred. “Rather than hearing about someone on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or on TV, they were here, live, giving their answers directly to us live. It made me think, ‘Wow, I can be just like them.’ It inspired everybody sitting in the crowd to believe that they can do anything.”
Whitaker and Williams are among 11 students from Urban Fitness taking a UCLA music business class taught by Dina LaPolt, an entertainment attorney who also volunteers for Urban Fitness. LaPolt, who works with Fifth Harmony, not only brought 5H to the class, but has recruited other clients to speak at the high school, including Deadmau5 and Tommy Lee and Sofi — all of whom left the mentoring session inspired but perhaps not as blown away as Fifth Harmony.
“This has been one of the most touching experiences for all of us,” said 5H’s Normani Kordei. “It’s been a blessing not just for the kids, but for all of us. I think that we are going to leave here ten times happier ourselves because we got to share our stories and got to inspire people through what we love to do, and this is what it’s about.”
All of which brings us to Fifth Harmony’s new album 7/27, slated for May 20. “7/27 was the date we formed on X Factor,” explains Cabello, “so it’s sort of like a rebirth for us.”
“It’s sonically similar to Reflection,” adds Jauregui, “but we’re touching upon more life subjects and the things that we’ve gone through.” If those stories have the same impact they did on the King Drew students, the album should be a blockbuster.