ATLANTA (AP) _ Rapper Ludacris returned to a high school that restricted him from returning almost four years ago, stepped into a gymnasium _ and saw a mural that included his likeness.
“I've always wanted a street named after me, but this is better,'' he said, while scoping out the mural, which included his face overlooking the words “Gym of Dreams.''
On Monday, Ludacris was welcomed back to Banneker High School in south Atlanta to take part in a crusade against violence. He spoke at a ceremony honoring a project by students who stuffed a box with more than 1,000 anonymous letters on the topics of gang violence and rape into a black coffin in early February.
The small gym was named for Christopher Bridges, Ludacris' real name. He also received a red and white No. 69 football jersey from school officials. He graduated from the school in 1996.
“I know a lot of us come from hard times, but it's extremely important that you use your street knowledge and book knowledge to get to where you need to be,'' the rapper told a crowd of about 2,000.
Banneker's principal said his predecessor kept Ludacris from the campus because of the attention he drew. But the new principal decided to invite the rapper back as a spokesman against violence.
“He was not allowed to come as his rap personality to tell his testimony of success,'' said principal Robert L. Williams, who also apologized for the school's reluctance to accept a scholarship provided by Ludacris.
“The person before me believed students were too rowdy for him to come,'' he continues. “But I have a different view, because he'll be able to change someone's mindset for the good.''
Ludacris and R&B singer Monica planted two trees on the front lawn of the school.
“This is a way to show them how to stay on track,'' Monica said. “There's a lot of peer pressure out there in the world. But the tree symbolizes a fresh start.''
Ludacris and school officials were persuaded to work together by Malika James, who headed the event along with Men of Destiny, a local mentorship program. From the event, James is producing a television documentary series, “Behind The Mic.''
“When people say, 'Never forget where you come from,' this is what they mean,'' Ludacris said. “I'm just trying to use my celebrity status to help the kids understand that they can make it.''
Ludacris won Grammys for Best Rap Album for “Release Therapy,'' and Best Rap Song for “Money Maker.''