Rapper and Roc Nation owner Jay-Z pictured at the 2019 Made In America Festival | Photo courtesy of Roc Nation [Instagram]

Jay-Z’s been catching all the heat since the Aug. 13 announcement of a new entertainment consulting and social justice partnership between his Roc Nation imprint and the NFL. Adding insult to injury, as part of their Inspire Change social justice initiative, the 49-year-old rapper recently donated $200,000 each to two Chicago organizations, the Better Boys Foundation Family Services and the Crusher’s Club.

Here’s the thing: the Crusher’s Club is an Englewood-based boxing organization that’s not only founded by a white woman but one that also cut a Black man’s locs, likening the activity to “change” and his “desire for a better life.” In the past, Crusher’s Club founder Sally Hazelgrove also wrote in now-deleted tweets her belief that President Donald Trump is the answer to Chicago’s gang violence.

Out of all the grassroots organizations putting in work in underserved communities on Chicago’s South and West sides, how did Jay-Z’s money end up here?

Jay-Z first inserted himself into the ongoing NFL controversy back in September 2017. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had spent the 2016 NFL season kneeling on the field during the National Anthem to show solidarity with victims of police brutality and other racial injustices. As NFL owners blackballed Kaepernick, Jay-Z dedicated his headlining performance of his pro-Black 4:44 single, “The Story of O.J.” to Kaepernick at the Meadows Music and Arts Festival in Queens.

Jay-Z’s loyalty to Kaepernick held strong through the years. On 2018’s “Apeshit,” from his collaborative Everything is Love album with superstar wife Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Jay-Z rapped, “Once I said no to the Super Bowl. You need me. I don’t need you.”

Now Jay-Z is on the other side of the table. As part of his new NFL partnership, which also includes an Inspire Change clothing collection and concert series, the Roc Nation owner host last week’s NFL kickoff in Chicago without a local artist in sight. The only Chicagoan added to the awkward lineup of Meek Mill, Meghan Trainor and Rapsody was DJ Pharris, a longtime popular personality from Chicago’s Power 92 radio station. And, to top it off, he donates to a Chicago organization with questionable morals.

Often times, Black folks have to infiltrate all-white spaces and force their seat at the table to make real change. Yet and still, the Roc Nation-NFL partnership hasn’t made a move that seemingly will make an impact on racial inequality in America, or get Kaepernick his job back. Alas, Roc Nation also is the child of Live Nation, who’s already had its woes trying to secure a larger footing in Chicago. 

How the Roc Nation-NFL partnership will fare in other cities throughout the 2019 football season is unclear, but it is clear that the duo didn’t do enough research to fare well here in Chicago.

So we made a list of some Chicago community organizations — sans cultural insensitivity — that are impacting our Black and brown communities in major ways:

GoodKids, MadCity

Led by Black and brown young people living on Chicago’s South and West sides, GoodKids, MadCity members support other young people affected by gun violence. They also work to help young people with employment and to forge seats at the table for young people when policy decisions are being made about access to resources and gun violence in their communities. Founded last year, the group challenges the notion that mass shootings are the only shootings that affect young people in school; they make clear that gun violence impacts young people’s access to education as well.

Black Youth Project 100

Chicago’s BYP100 Chapter was founded in 2013, after George Zimmerman was found innocent in his killing of Trayvon Martin. Since then, the organization has pursued a number of campaigns through a Black, queer feminist political lens, including protests against the police killing of Chicago teen Laquan McDonald in 2015.

Save Money, Save Life 

Chicago rapper Vic Mensa is signed to Roc Nation. Yet, his Save Money, Save Life initiative is doing good work in the city through using the arts to inspire and foster change in the lives of young people in Chicago. Their programming includes media training, and training young folks in victim advocacy and mental health first-responders. This summer they held a “Night Out Against Gun Violence”, an event with several local performers, community organizations and programs for kids in Bronzeville.

100 Black Men of Chicago

This organization works to enhance the quality of life for Black men in Chicago through mentoring, mental health services, educational opportunities and economic development opportunities.

Assata’s Daughters

Assata’s Daughters organizers pursue black liberation through political education, mentorship and leadership development. Carrying on the legacy of 1970s activist Assata Shakur, Assata’s Daughters addresses a gap in programming for women, femmes and gender non-conforming people in Chicago. The group, who lost their headquarters recently, is a community-building organization that is known for teaching organizing tactics to address community issues like gentrification and police-presence in schools.

I Grow Chicago

Based in Englewood, I Grow Chicago is dedicated to helping the neighborhood grow from surviving to thriving through programs centered on restorative justice, mentorship, healing and urban farming.