PHILADELPHIA -- When Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney said he wanted public input on the hiring of the city's next police commissioner, Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins took him up on his offer by joining forces with rap mogul Meek Mill for a town hall that had the juice of a red-carpet event last week.
But instead of stars in the audience, the Community College of Philadelphia auditorium was packed on Oct. 28 with grass-root organizers and concerned citizens, many of whom got their turn to speak as thousands of people watched via livestream.
The event was representative of how the social justice movement led by the Players Coalition has evolved while staying true to its core principle.
Jenkins and Anquan Boldin co-founded the Players Coalition in 2017, a time when player demonstrations were near their height, to help coordinate the efforts of those passionate about social justice reform. The organization came to an $89 million agreement with the NFL for projects dealing with criminal justice, law enforcement-community relations and education.
At issue during this town hall were the dynamics between residents and law enforcement, further complicated by the recent resignation of commissioner Richard Ross amid allegations of sexual harassment and gender and racial discrimination within the police department.
"The relationship with police, it's got to be bridged. If it's not bridged, it will forever be separated, and I don't think anything can be done about it until both sides step up. We're here, we're talking today, we're ready to step up," said Mill, who in July had his 2008 conviction on gun and drug charges overturned following new evidence of alleged police corruption.
"This is the time we need to use our voices the loudest and make sure that we hold [the mayor] accountable to what we want," Jenkins added, "and that this new person is going to come in and make a cultural shift."
In Philadelphia, the Eagles Social Justice Fund amassed about $500,000 in 2018, which it distributed to nonprofits such as the Police Athletic League of Philadelphia and the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. Some $50,000 went to bail nine people out of jail the day before Thanksgiving. Similar social justice funds are set up across the NFL.
Separate from that agreement, the Players Coalition has taken up initiatives in various markets to influence legal change on the social justice reform front and have seen real results. In Massachusetts and Michigan, in a charge led by Boldin and the New England Patriots' McCourty twins, Devin and Jason, it helped raise the age a person is considered a minor in the court of law.
The coalition has successfully advocated for legislation such as Louisiana House Bill 265, which permits people who have been convicted of felonies to regain the right to vote once they have completed probation or parole, and the Clean Slate Act in Pennsylvania, which automatically seals dropped charges and many misdemeanor convictions after 10 years so it's easier for those who have been in the system to find a job.
"Each guy gets to now really dive into their own section of the country," Jenkins said. "And so a lot of that work that as an individual would be a huge undertaking is now an easy lift where we collectively kind of chop at this."
Their efforts are on-going. On Wednesday, Jenkins and the Players Coalition teamed up with Roc Nation to launch the first public service announcement of the Responsibility Program, which will include a series of PSAs that will focus on parents whose children were victims of police brutality and gun violence.
The common theme throughout, from the protests to the championing of bills to the focus at the town hall, which includes tackling the "front end of the criminal justice system" as Jenkins put it, referencing police-community relations, has been about using their platform to amplify voices that aren't always heard to affect change. In that respect, the town hall was right on brand.