The New Meaning of Family
42 years ago, music legend and cultural icon Nile Rodgers made a monumental contribution to history (just one of many times), when Rodgers and his CHIC partner, the late Bernard Edwards, wrote and produced Sister Sledge’s 1979 classic “We Are Family.” When the song was released, Rodgers and Edwards could’ve never predicted the success and impacts it would have out the gate. Over time, the groovy chart-topping song has served as a mission statement and a universal rallying cry for unity and solidarity. To this day, Rodgers’ non-profit – the We Are Family Foundation (WAFF) – has kept it alive and vibrant, as the artist works to make the world a better, more knowledgeable, more loving place for everyone.
The Grammy-winning musical mastermind boasts a lengthy list of accomplishments. He co-founded the iconic disco group, CHIC, he wrote, performed, and produced genre-defining smashes, such as “I Want Your Love,” “Le Freak,” and “Everybody Dance,” and he produced hits for the likes of David Bowie, Madonna, Duran Duran, and Diana Ross. To say that he has had a hand in some of the most innovative and influential hits for the past five decades would be an understatement. In 1985, Billboard proclaimed Rodgers to be the world’s number-one producer. Furthermore, Abbey Road Studios, the most famous recording facility in music history, appointed him to the newly-created position of chief creative advisor in 2018. While his musical contributions have changed the art form forever, it’s Rodgers’ fierce commitment to philanthropy and activism that would continue changing lives worldwide for many years to come.
Back in 2001 – in the devastating wake of the September 11th attacks – Rodgers saw an opportunity to heal, inspire, and comfort a nation in mourning. Together with over 200 artists, actors, and community members, he re-recorded “We Are Family,” this time with a message more resonant than ever. While fostering a greater sense of community spirit, Rodgers and his partner, Nancy Hunt, created the We Are Family Foundation to empower “youth around the world who are changing the game with their ideas, innovation, and social-good solutions.”
Rodgers and Hunt believe that young people truly are the future, and they’ve dedicated their work to giving a real platform to kids with big dreams. “Many years ago, we decided that there were teenagers around the world who were doing great things, and we wanted to find those extraordinary teens and help them continue their work,” shares Hunt. “When we bring them together as a group, it’s amazing because their stories are different, but the feelings are the same.”
Rodgers understands the importance of getting the youth involved in social and political activism. At just 16 years old, he became a subsection leader of New York’s Black Panther Party. “Young people are still searching, they’re looking. Those are the people that we find are the most passionate,” he says. “As we get older, we get sort of set in our ways, and somehow we get a little bit removed from that youthful zeal that we once had, because we don’t want to make mistakes. There’s something really brilliant about making mistakes. Almost everyone I know who’s super-successful made a great deal of mistakes when they were younger – because their minds were open.”
Last year, in response to the murder of George Floyd, the WAFF launched the Youth To The Front Fund to help young people of color forge an easier path in business, doing their part to eradicate systemic racism and enhance diversity. “The idea is, this is not a one-off, this is going to continue,” Hunt elaborates. “We have great support from corporations, great support within our board of directors, and we’re just going to keep this moving and start to tell these stories.”
As we deal with ever-changing issues in an ever-changing world, emotions can oftentimes be difficult to parse. “You feel really hopeful, then all of a sudden, you’re depressed, then you feel really hopeful, then you’re depressed,” says Rodgers. “It’s cyclical, and it just doesn’t stop.” Like many people, though, he is already looking ahead at what the future may hold in 2021 – with a newfound sense of enthusiasm. “I hope that this is the positive upswing that we have all experienced throughout our lives, and I just hope it lasts longer,” he adds.
Writer: Summer Myatt
Photographer & Videographer: Jenaé Weinbrenner
Editor: Eiko Watanabe
Special thanks to EPK Media (@myepk & @epkmedia - epkmedia.com)