As announced during a press conference on Wednesday (Jan. 23), JAY-Z and Meek Mill are joining forces in a monumental way. Along with other key executives in sports, entertainment and business; the two entertainers have launched a new organization, REFORM Alliance, dedicated to criminal justice reform.
Since his release from prison in April 2018, Meek has been a steadfast activist. He's used his platform to raise awareness regarding the need for prison reform and to address topics such as cash bail, probation and systemic racism.
Drawing from his own experiences with the criminal justice system, which has kept him on probation since he was a teenager, the Philadelphia rapper took to the podium first to share his intentions behind the new organization.
"Every time I started to further my life with the music industry, traveling the world and traveling worldwide and actually making money to be able to provide for my family and take them out of that ruthless environment... every year there was something that brought me back to ground zero, and it was probation," Meek said. "I always wondered what happened to the people that was in situations worse than mine."
The mission of the REFORM Alliance is to advance efforts pertaining to "criminal justice reform and [eliminating] outdated laws that perpetuate injustice, starting with probation and parole."
In addition to JAY-Z and Meek; the founding members and board also include Kraft Group CEO and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Philadelphia 76ers co-owner and Fanatics executive chairman Michael Rubin, Brooklyn Nets co-owner Clara Wu Tsai, Third Point LLC founder Daniel S. Loeb, Vista Equity Partners founder Robert F. Smith, and Galaxy Digital founder Michael E. Novogratz. As announced during the press release, journalist Van Jones has been tapped as CEO.
To kick off the launch of the new organization, the founders have collectively pledged $50 million.
"I think the attention Meek brought to this issue because of his celebrity, and the egregious of the crime—poppin' the wheelie and breaking up the fight is what sparked the match for the nation," JAY-Z shared during the press conference. "But for me, I'm from Marcy Projects, I'm from Brooklyn, and this has been a part of my life. This is communities that we grow up in, friends that I have, people around me, so I have grown up with this issue. People way worse off than Meek. He has an opportunity, and he had to work hard. And we have to applaud him because every setback he came out stronger, and that takes a really dedicated person. I want to pride you for that."
Hov continued, "But with us, this is how we grew up. I think Van said something really poignant when he was saying that we are all prisoners to this because until everyone is free, no one is free. You think about the idea of growing up in a single-parent house, which I grew up in, which Meek grew up in. And having the adverse feeling for authority, right? Your father is gone, so you're like, 'I hate my dad. Don't nobody tell me what to do. I am the man of the house.' And then you hit the street, and you run into a police officer. And his first thing is put your hands up, freeze. Shut up. And you're like, 'F—k you.' Right? That interaction causes people to lose lives. We don't want people that's in charge to police areas to be in danger either. We want to be very clear—someone commits a crime, they should go to jail. But these things are just disproportionate, and the whole world knows it. A lot of these issues are in place now 'cause they're political issues. People run on this and got elected to office."
JAY-Z added that he doesn't intend for anyone to feel defensive. But, that he's speaking the honest truth.
"If we are broken, the family structure in one culture, it affects everyone," he concluded. "It affects the police officer who has to go home to their kids, it affects people who are raising kids and working really hard and have to pay taxes. And we are housing people in jail for incredible amounts of time and this money is coming from hardworking people. It affects everyone in some sort of way and it is an important issue. I think that for me, me being very specific, that and education are the two most important issues for us right now."
Learn more about the REFORM Alliance here and take a look at some clips from the press conference announcing its formation below.
Today I was announced as the CEO of the @REFORM Alliance. This is the opportunity of a lifetime. I’ve spent more than 25 years working to fix the criminal justice system, and with partners like these I know we can make a real difference. pic.twitter.com/riQUWR7Ys5— Van Jones (@VanJones68) January 23, 2019