February 04, 2016
Philly-born rapper Meek Mill swung by Boys Latin Charter School in West Philly on Thursday to talk about growing up in Strawberry Mansion, his struggle to get out from a life surrounded by guns and drugs, and just what it takes to be successful in the rap game.
"We got some dream chasers up in here?" Mill asked a room packed with high school seniors. He has released several mixtapes titled "Dream Chasers" since 2011.
The rapper, 28, is in town for a Friday sentencing related to a December conviction for probation violation. Mill was placed on probation following a 2008 conviction for drug and gun possession.
The convictions, and possibly serving time in prison, was the focus of his speech Thursday. He told the students to work hard to be successful and, unlike him, avoid the pitfalls that could lead to prison.
"I came here to deliver a message: keep pushing forward," Mill said. "When you are growing up, you [have] to make decisions about the people you hang with."
During his visit to the school at 55th Street and Cedar Avenue in West Philadelphia, Mill asked the students what kind of activities they would be doing if they hung out with people who carried guns or smoked crack.
"You're gonna smoke crack, too," the gathered crowd replied.
Mill told the students that, growing up at 18th and Berks streets in North Philadelphia, he was told by older kids that being "gangster" meant carrying a weapon and holding on to drugs. But, he realized too late that isn't "gangster" at all.
"The only reason they had me doing that is 'cause they didn't want to do it," he said.
Acting "gangster," he said, landed him in jail, in a cell like "the smallest bathroom you ever seen, with a bed in there." Students need to "keep their noses clean" and go to college if they really want to be successful, said Mill, adding it's "easy to pick up a gun," but more difficult, and more rewarding, for students to stay in school.
Instead, Mill said, he now believes being "gangster" means taking care of the people you love and providing for your family.
"Where I come from, where I grew up, we call that being gangster," he said.
Some might question the rapper – who often rhymes about drug use and guns – as a role model for impressionable students. But David Hardy, the school's CEO, said that Mill's visit wasn't intended to be a rap concert that glorifies negative behavior.
Instead, he said, Mill wanted to talk about the mistakes he's made in his youth and push the kids to work hard to ensure their success in life.
"This wasn't a rap concert. He was here to talk to the kids," Hardy said. "I think he spoke from the heart and I think that's great. There's nothing wrong with honesty."
After the rapper's short visit – Mill said he had to leave to visit some of his family before Friday's court date – students clamored over his speech and his knowledge of their community.
"That was great. He was real honest and real open," said Nasir Kane, 17, a senior at the school.
"I thought it was really good, it was really personal," said Jared Ferguson, 17, also a senior. "A lot of people who make it out, don't ever come back, so that was really cool."
Diego Wright, 18, a senior who said he was a big Meek Mill fan, admitted he was stunned by the rapper's honesty, his willingness to talk about the negative aspects of his life and how he went on to be a successful rapper.
"He talked about the consequences of all those things and I really appreciate his honesty," Wright said.