By George Kevin Jordan, Special to the AFRO
You may be able to argue about whether politics and celebrity mix, but what is hard to contest is the impact of celebrity on politics. Case in point was a panel discussion, “Music, Criminal Justice and Racial Equality” where hundreds of people crowded into an auditorium to see Meek Mill talk about his life during the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference on September 14 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
The famed hip hop artist was joined on stage by such heavy hitters as author Michael Eric Dyson; Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), who hosted the event; Jeffrey Harleston, General Counsel and Executive Vice President of Business & Legal Affairs for Universal Music Group; Dr. Michelle Scott, Associate Professor of History and Affiliate faculty member in African Studies, at the University of Maryland – Baltimore County and CNN host Van Jones, who also served as moderator of the event.
Mill, 31, was once again in the center of news cycle this weeks as he recently stopped a famous long running feud with fellow rapper, Drake. The duo would go on to share a stage and perform together in Philadelphia the next day. During the panel discussion, Jones praised the artist for creating a dialogue of peace for young people.
“That means for all of us people, they (Mill and Drake) created a license for us to do a ‘Meek and Drake,’” Jones said to thunderous applause. “Because this brother has been willing to do things others aren’t willing to do. Admit to addiction. Come out of prison and fight for prison reform. And make peace with someone you’ve been been beefing with for years.”
Much of Mill’s life has been on public display. He was constantly on every music magazines’ “one to watch” list. He released three albums, “Dreams and Nightmares,” “Dreams Worth More than Money” and “Wins & Losses,” as well as several critically acclaimed mixtapes. He was also convicted of selling drugs and gun possession in 2008. He was released from prison in 2009 but then began a long battle with his judge over parole and violations.
Throughout this process, even in the documentary about his life, produced by entrepreneur and rapper Jay-Z, the Philadelphia native has been candid about his personal life and the struggles he went through in the prison system. He garnered some high profile supporters including Kevin Hart, rapper T.I., Internet entrepreneur Michael Rubin and many others.
His public battle over probation violation has sparked debate about how the criminal justice system still punishes people long after they have served their sentences.
Mill was quick to point out in the panel discussion that while his celebrity may have shed light on issues in prison, being a celebrity shouldn’t have any bearing about treating someone fairly.
“There was one guy….a CO…. and like Kevin Hart and my friend Michael Rubin came to see me and he was like he was like ‘Wow I gotta open my eyes up to this guy.’ And I was like why does it take a celebrity and a guy who’s a billionaire for you to open your eyes?” Mill told the audience.
“One of the reasons we put the panel together, we wanted to make plain that the contemporary experience that Meek is going through really traces back to the origins of this country,” Congressman Jeffries said. “If we don’t put that in context we won’t be able to navigate forward in the most thoughtful and powerful way.”
“All of us have this all hands on deck responsibility. The hope is that you leave inspired to participate in this democracy because that is what those who have come before us have consistently done.”