Meek Mill and others bring Hip-Hop and Pro Sports to the table for social justice.
Meek Mill’s celebrity status in the Philadelphia metropolitan area and beyond has allowed a unique level of access to business, entertainment and financial minds the likes of which the average brother South Philadelphia would never find themselves within two miles of.
To that end, according to a recent Rolling Stone article, Mill would often find himself in deep discussion with Philadelphia 76ers co-owner Micheal Rubin. Oftentimes, the tone of the argument was argumentative and recurring along the topic of societal duality on the lines of black and white in America.
This was recounted by Rubin at Wednesday’s press conference at John Jay College in Manhattan to announce the formation of a prison reform initiative that finds Jay Z, Meek Mill and New England Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft as principal partners.
According to Rubin, he later sat in a courtroom as Meek Mill was sentenced to two to four years in prison for popping wheelies on a dirt bike, his prior action was considered a violation of his parole according to some, the state’s reaction was considered a violation of his Constitutional Rights by others.
“Meek would say, ‘Michael, there are two Americas,’” Rubin recalled during a press conference at John Jay College in Manhattan on Wednesday. “I’d be like, ‘Bro, what are you talking about?’”
“An hour later, my phone rings,” Rubin remembered. It was Mill, who called to say, “I told you so! … I told you there were two Americas!” “You were right,” Rubin concluded, “and I was dead wrong.”
That conversation set the stage for the formation of the Reform Alliance. Their primary mission is changing draconian, racially-selective laws that “make no sense” but govern the lives of 4.5 million Americans currently on parole or probation.
Mill and Rubin announced the formation of the organization on Wednesday with other wealthy business and/or sports-team owners, including Jay-Z, Robert Kraft, Clara Wu Tsai, Daniel Loeb, and Michael Novogratz, who have pledged a combined $50 million to this effort.
TV host Van Jones, also on hand at John Jay, was picked to lead Reform. “This started off as a buddy movie,” he quipped. “And it’s now become The Avengers.”
“to speak for the people who don’t have a voice,” Rubin noted that the rapper “taught me so much about a world that I didn’t understand at all, about the great injustices that are going on,” said Mill in a brief address.
“I’d never been to jail before,” Kraft told the crowd. “Going there and seeing I didn’t sleep the rest of the night when I got home — I was thinking how out of touch someone like myself is with what’s really going on.”
Jay Z was mostly quiet during the press conference, but he’s been doing a great deal of his own media based activism as of late, which culminated in the release of Time: The Kalief Browder Story, which he executive produced.
But most of the white participants expressed shock and what passes for normal in the American criminal justice system.
Indeed, when human beings of a sincere heart and sound mind come together to create bridges that span financial, religious and societal distances, it seems like anything is possible.
While I am filled with a certain level of cautious hope regarding this overture, I have to remind myself that there are exponentially more sad stories than there are happy endings when it comes to black people and the American criminal justice system.
Young Kalief Browder died by suicide after spending over 1,000 days in pre-trial detention for a charge that seemed trumped up by all estimates.
The Reform Alliance is seeking to reduce the number of individuals hampered and hindered by parole and probation law by as much as one million over the next five years.
“This [the number of people currently on parole or probation] is two-thirds of the population in the criminal justice system, and yet it’s been the area that’s least focused on [by reform efforts],” Rubin explained.
Public speaker and media commentator Van Jones has been selected to lead the initiative. Though he has ruffled my feathers with some of his across the aisle praise for Donald J. Trump and Kim Kardashian on prison reform when hundreds of black prison reformists have been toiling for decades with little or no recognition.
Though he might not be a political cup of tea, I understand that Van’s presence in a leadership position is strategic in that it would be impossible for the Reform Alliance to get anything done with a leader who is anti-establishment or anti-system.
“We already have great groups working on the 2 million [people] that are locked up,” added Jones. “That 4 million that are caught up have not had enough support. And that is a revolving door that keeps [sending] them back in and back in … tricks and traps, without enough support.”
“We are not going to try to get millions of lawyers for anyone,” he said. “… We’re going to change the laws and the policies.
“We’re not going to reinvent the wheel,” he added. “We are here to add capacity, to amplify the voices, to lift up the people who have been screaming for so long with so little attention.”
A long-held conservative talking point is that a decreased prison population would lead to an increased crime rate. However, that has never been substantiated by data.
“We believe you can significantly reduce the amount of people under government supervision while also keeping our communities safe — [and] also keeping our communities safe for law enforcement, who are there to keep us safe,” Rubin said.
“Taxpayers are paying to keep [Mill] going [to jail], and he’s not employing all the people he could employ and generating all the tax dollars he could [generate],” Kraft said. “It’s a cuckoo system even forgetting the social impact it has.”