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The 'Keys' to unlock change for the next generation

15-time Grammy award winner, philanthropist and entrepreneur Alicia Keys visited students at Queens Metropolitan High School in New York City – along with Roadtrip Nation and The Allstate Foundation – to lend advice on how to become changemakers of the future.

Alicia keys roadtrip header.

Alicia Keys dropped in at an Allstate Foundation event in New York City to give advice to young people on how to create a future they want to live in – complete with a song and a selfie (or two).

June 14, 2023

Big change can start small.

That's the message The Allstate Foundation, Roadtrip Nation and Alicia Keys brought to the students of Queens Metropolitan High School in June, during a surprise Q&A with the singer and most recent cast of roadtrippers.

"I'm excited to meet the changemakers of the future," Keys said. "For me, the change that we want to make is up to us; nobody is going to do it for us. A changemaker is someone who doesn't take 'no' for an answer — somebody who has a vision that's different from other people — to be brave enough and be loud and bold."

But, being bold enough to make a difference in the world isn't always an easy road to travel.

The road to becoming changemakers

Roadtrip Nation is dedicated to empowering young people to "define your own road." They choose new students every year to become "roadtrippers," living in an RV and traveling the country for three weeks to interview mentors.

The experience is captured in documentaries distributed nationally on public television and on Roadtrip Nation's website. In the latest road trip and documentary, made possible by The Allstate Foundation, the roadtrippers interviewed people whose careers involve making positive change.

"We've been doing this for almost 20 years now, and we were students similar to you all, trying to figure out what we wanted to do with our lives," Roadtrip Nation co-founder Mike Marriner told the high schoolers at the event.

"A lot of times when you're sitting in school, it's hard to figure out what you're going to do for the rest of your life if you haven't really seen what else is out there. So, we had this idea to take a road trip across the country and interview people in different careers that were making a difference in our communities," he said.

The "Changemakers" documentary follows Jake, Genevieve and Rahael — who were part of the Q&A panel at the event — as they learn to grow their careers while making impactful change and solving important problems in their communities.

The three roadtrippers joined Greg Weatherford II, program officer for The Allstate Foundation's youth empowerment program, onstage to share their experience with the students.

"Experiencing something new every day with other people who also have never seen it before, that was probably the highlight of being on the RV together," Jake said. "I was a little nervous because I had never been on a road trip, especially with complete strangers, but if they like me and I'm just being myself, I must be doing something right."

The event was part of a larger campaign that the Allstate Foundation is leading to screen the film for youth and adults around youth across the country in hopes of driving important conversations around youth service.

The impact is already being felt.

Thousands of young people have watched the film, and The Allstate Foundation has provided micro-grants to put the film's lessons into action by helping youth serve in their communities.

Embrace new opportunities, live outside of your comfort zone

Once you step out of your comfort zone, it only gets bigger, both the roadtrippers and Keys told the audience. It's the first small step to influence change.

"Going outside of your comfort zone helps you overcome this notion of self-rejection and helps you seek different opportunities," Genevieve said. "Within the year I've been away from the road trip, I've done so much with my life that I didn't think was possible before because I didn't think I could possibly accomplish these things."

Her advice to the students: Embrace new opportunities, because there's often fun and unexpected joy in the unknown.

"Stepping outside of your comfort zone is the best thing you can do for yourself," Rahael said. "That's where growth happens, when you're able to do things that you're not familiar with but you have the courage to do it and become a better person."

For Keys, stepping outside of your comfort zone is a lifelong process, but the results are invaluable.

"You're never going to be comfortable 100 percent all the time," she said. "So, saying 'yes' even when it's hard or even when it's scary is usually a great thing."

A bold, impromptu performance

"If you ask for what you want, nine times out of 10 you're gonna get it," Keys said.

Alicia Keys and students.

Weatherford opened the floor for the students to ask Keys and the roadtrippers questions, and one student — who told the audience she would be singing and playing the piano at the school's talent show that evening — took a chance and asked Keys a question:

"Miss Alicia Keys, would you like to sing a song with me?"

For the next minute, Queens Metropolitan student Audrey and Keys sang a duet of the singer's hit "If I Ain't Got You" for the audience.

Start small to think big

The roadtrippers and Keys discussed how overwhelming "thinking big" can be, and how it can often cause self-doubt and lack of confidence.

"I think starting small is really important when you're trying to make change," Rahael said. "Definitely don't overwhelm yourself with wanting to make the change in the world and in your life. Start small, learn from every avenue that's available, and that's really the easiest way to grow."

Genevieve assured the students that they do have a voice and matter even when they think they don't.

"We all experience these moments where we don't believe in ourselves; it's part of growing up and finding yourself and realizing who you are," Keys said. "Try to find things that make you feel good – go outside of your comfort zone – sometimes you have to search for it, sometimes it's not where you are right now. So be open to try new things, new environments and new circumstances."

And in keeping with the theme of supporting the journey to become changemakers, The Allstate Foundation gave Queens Metropolitan High School a $25,000 donation to go out and make a difference in the community.

"We want you to authentically feel you can make a difference. Your current circumstance doesn't have to be your final circumstance. You can be a changemaker," Weatherford said.

Inspiring future impact

The Allstate Foundation empowers youth to succeed and lead by engaging them in meaningful service opportunities that help them build skills and confidence while having a positive impact on their community.

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