BIPOC Voices, Community Leaders

5 top plays from Team Roc – for social justice

words by: Kai Acevedo
Nov 10, 2020

Back in 2001, on his hit “Izzo,” Jay-Z proclaimed, “I do this for my culture.” Committed to his cause, the billionaire artist has continued to lead the charge. In 2018, he launched Team Roc to “combat injustice and amplify the need for universal equality.” Tasked with tackling social justice initiatives, Team Roc has so far been putting the work in from providing lawyers and handling legal fees for victims of racial injustice to bailing out protesters to fighting for the rights of inmates. Learn more about the philanthropic division of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation here and check out five of Team Roc’s top plays for the culture below. 


The Hoodie Arrests

In 2018, Montavious Smith and Kevin McKenzie were arrested and charged with criminal trespassing outside of a mall in Memphis. Viewed by many as an example of racial profiling, the incident, which became known as the “hoodie arrests,” garnered the attention of Team Roc. Prior to being arrested, Smith and a group of friends were asked to leave the Wolfchase Galleria Mall after the 22-year-old refused to take off his hoodie, which, according to security at the time, violated Wolfchase’s dress code policy. McKenzie, a bystander, began to record Smith’s encounter with the officers on his cellphone and was soon arrested also. Team Roc secured high-profile attorneys for Smith and McKenzie and also met with representatives from the Wolfchase Galleria Mall to address the dress code policy. Prosecutors later dismissed the charges against both Smith and McKenzie, while Wolfchase Galleria Mall officially made changes to their dress policy.


21 Savage’s Battle with ICE 

21 Savage made headlines in 2019 when he was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for being an illegal immigrant. Born in the Newham borough of London, the Grammy Award-winning rapper known for heavily repping Atlanta was accused of overstaying his welcome in America after his visa had expired in 2006. Swooping in to save the day, Team Roc provided assistance, including the services of attorney Alex Spiro, which resulted in 21 Savage’s release.



Prison Reform in Mississippi

Yo Gotti has a beef with Mississippi’s Parchman Prison and Team Roc has aided the platinum rapper in his efforts to hold the correctional facility accountable for its poor treatment of inmates. According to Gotti, the situation at the facility that has been accused of housing inmates under subpar conditions is “dire” and the prison needs to be shut down. Not long after Gotti and Team Roc filed a class action lawsuit against Mississippi’s Department of Corrections Commissioner and Centurion, a healthcare provider for Parchman and many other prisons around the country, on behalf of inmates at the prison, Centurion severed ties with the reportedly underfunded Parchman saying, “we do not believe we can further improve the effectiveness of our level of care without additional investment from the Department in correctional staffing and infrastructure along the lines of what we have already recommended.”



Bailing Out Protesters 

Back in July, Team Roc called for charges to be brought against Joseph Mensah, the Wauwatosa, Wisconsin police officer who shot and killed 17-year-old Alvin Cole. In a letter sent to Milwaukee County’s district attorney, Hov’s crew also asked for the firing of Mensah, writing, “Since joining the Wauwatosa Police Department in 2015, Mensah has recklessly shot and killed THREE men of color, inexplicably failed to enable his dash camera, and failed to render medical aid during these tragic instances. Prosecute him.” When it was unveiled that Milwaukee County had failed to prosecute Officer Mensah, Team Roc stepped in again. The Roc paid the legal fees of individuals, which included Cole’s mother and sister, who were arrested or fined as they protested in the name of justice. 



A Call for Justice 

In the wake of the death of George Floyd, Jay-Z hopped on a phone call with Tim Walz, governor of Minnesota, to demand justice for Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer. “How Minnesota handles this is going to have an impact across the country,” said Walz after his conversation with Jay-Z. “It’s a positive sign that someone of a stature, that has a presence like that, is focused in the moment of what Minnesotans are focused on.” The “Empire State of Mind” rapper and Team Roc also had a full-page ad printed in publications such as The New York Times, the Minneapolis Star, The Los Angeles Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in honor of Floyd. 



Photo via Getty