Ashanti at ACHS

Scarlet Dominguez, 17 of Atlantic City, right, a student at Atlantic City High School, talks to Ashanti during the singer's appearance there June 1. School board records show Ashanti was paid $20,000 for the appearance.

Edward Lea

Singer Ashanti Douglas received $20,000 for her appearance June 1 at Atlantic City High School, Board of Education minutes obtained by The Press of Atlantic City show.

Ashanti spent a good part of the school day at the high school, where she led assemblies for seventh- and eighth-graders, met privately with a group of middle high school students and did an interview with students for the high school radio station. At the events, she encouraged students to stay in school, stay focused and have a network of family and friends to support them.

School officials said that the payment was typical for a celebrity speaker and that Ashanti did far more than a typical guest.

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“She was paid like any other vendor,” said Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Donna Haye, who will take over as superintendent July 1. “We budget for special events and saw this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We wanted to bring in someone young who would connect with the students.”

The 2003 Grammy Award-winning singer was in town to participate in the city’s Multi-Cultural festival, where she performed as part of an “R&B Gone but Not Forgotten” tribute. In an email, Mayor Lorenzo Langford said neither Ashanti nor any of the tribute performers were paid by the city or city taxpayers.

The resolution to authorize the payment was approved by the school board at its May 1 reorganization meeting with board members Shay Steele, Patricia Bailey, Gina Holmes, Edward Cooper, Joan Glick, Kirk Dooley and Ruth Byard voting yes. Board members Walter Johnson and Nynell Langford, who is the mayor’s wife and Ashanti’s godmother, abstained.

The funds were paid through a district budget account designated for the improvement of instructional services.

Haye said they had paid even more than $20,000 for some speakers. She said Dr. Adolph Brown, a youth motivational speaker, was paid more, though the specific amount was not available. Brown’s website said he charges an all-inclusive $10,000 fee for one presentation, with discounts for three or more.

At a special board meeting last week, Galloway Township resident Marte King, an author and youth mentor who had spent almost 10 years in prison, questioned the payment, saying he has done some volunteer work with students.

King, who said he would like to get board support for a writing and mentoring program for students, said he would be willing to work 20 weeks in the schools for $20,000.

He said in a later phone interview that he has spent a lot of his own money, and while he wasn’t opposed to Ashanti’s visit, he’d like to see the district also support some local programs like his.

“A lot of students can relate to me, too,” he said.

Nynell Langford said that while she abstained from voting because of her relationship to Ashanti, she supported her appearance and was proud to have her at the school.

Sheldon Senek, executive vice president of Eagles Talent Speakers Bureau in South Orange, said payments for celebrity appearances vary widely based on the event and how well-known the celebrity is. That agency does not represent Ashanti, but it does book other celebrities.

“Typically, the bigger the celebrity, the more you are going to pay,” he said. He said other issues such as travel and lodging could affect the cost, but fees are determined case by case.

“It always depends on what it’s for and who it’s for,” he said. “We always ask people what is their goal in inviting the speaker.”

A review of the Eagles Talent website along with other national speakers bureau websites showed speakers in the $20,000 to $30,000 range include football player A.J. Hawk, NBC sports announcer Ahmad Rashad and race car driver Al Unser Jr. Actress Aisha Tyler and former astronaut Alan Bean were in the $10,000 to $20,000 range. Rapper and actor Ice-T fell in the $15,000 to $25,000 range, and director Spike Lee was in the $25,000 to $35,000 range. Comedian Sinbad’s fee was listed at $75,000.

“I know the average person will look at the amounts and say, ‘Oh my gosh,’ ” Senek said. “But you are paying for the brand.”

Ashanti won two Grammys in 2003 in the categories for best Contemporary R&B album for her solo debut “Ashanti.” She also won for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration “What’s Luv.”

The resolution said that the services of Ashanti were arranged through Shanisha Touring Inc. and that she would deliver her “Chain of Confidence” message to empower youth to stay in school and maintain good attendance. Ashanti is also a Youth Ambassador for the Boys and Girls Club of America, and she met with students in the local club’s Champions of Youth program while at the high school.

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