HELL'S KITCHEN, Manhattan -- Some of the most influential names in entertainment and in sports came together at John Jay College to officially launch an organization that aims to get at least a million people relieved from the hazards that parole and probation can sometimes bring, according to the group's founders.
Hip-hop legend Jay-Z and best-selling rap artist Meek Mill created the organization, called Reform, with boldfaced names in the sports ownership realm -- New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, along with Brooklyn Nets owner Clara Tsai, and Philadelphia 76ers owner Mike Rubin.
Rubin is the main organizer of Reform. He'd said at the inauguration event on Wednesday that it was Mill’s most recent arrest that motivated Rubin to make Reform reality. Mill was jailed for parole violation after he’d popped a wheelie on a motorbikes without wearing a helmet. The incarceration happened even though the probation officer and the prosecutor in the case had not recommended time behind bars.
Also, the original crimes for which Mill had been on probation more than a decade ago — drug and gun possession charges — officers involved have indicated that Mill may not have actually been involved.
"The guy's been in jail four times for a crime he didn't commit," Rubin told PIX11 News. He said that that underscored the flaws in the criminal justice system and why there's such a great need to "educate people on how wrong this is."
Endorsing that message, strongly, was Meek Mill himself. He said, from the stage at the launch event, that Reform was the product of his gratitude to the thousands of people who'd protested his most recent incarceration.
"It made me want to double back for the people who stood up for me," Mill said in a speech from the stage of the John Jay auditorium.
The convergence of the sports team owners, as well as Jay-Z and Meek Mill, along with two other billionaire founders, resulted in a $50 million endowment from which Reform will carry out its work.
"You've got $50 million," said Van Jones, the cable news commentator who was selected as Reform's CEO, "but it's an $80 billion industry" that Reform is opposing, he said.
The new organization seeks to change probation and parole laws by supporting activists who've long been working for reform, and by trying to get legislation changed. On the latter point, it was well worth noting that the audience at the launch had a variety of lawmakers in attendance, including the governor of Pennsylvania, and the Brooklyn district attorney.