On Russell Road just west of Las Vegas Boulevard stands a billboard featuring the smiling face of a little boy with a big grin and one missing front tooth. Next to the photo are the words “Be a gentlemen.” The little boy is named Shaffer Smith, though by the time he grew into a smooth-singing, sharply dressed gentleman he became known by another name: Ne-Yo.
His Boys & Girls Club billboard is in several cities across America, but here, tucked away behind the Strip, the message has special meaning. The R&B crooner isn’t just familiar with the Boys & Girls Club; the Vegas-bred entertainer is familiar with our Boys & Girls Club—and he likes giving back.
Last Saturday, Ne-Yo teamed up with the community organization to provide presents to more than 400 children in the local foster-care system and/or the local chapter of the Boys & Girls Club. Ne-Yo’s own nonprofit, the Compound, focuses on underprivileged youth, whom he refers to as the “forgotten children” in our society. “It’s important to show them they can’t keep themselves down,” Ne-Yo said, standing next to a Santa chair, where he had been posing for photos with fans for more than an hour. “I came out of here, and I’m doing okay.”
Okay might be an understatement. The 28-year-old’s résumé already boasts a Grammy award and four albums, the latest of which, Libra Scale, dropped last month. The conceptual album explores morality, fame, power and love through the tale of a band of garbagemen who become crime-fighting super heroes. Ambitious? Absolutely, but that’s the point, Ne-Yo says. He’s at the point in his career where he can do what he wants and explore new boundaries. Without forgetting where he came from.