Meek Mill has a new trio - of counselors

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The Rev. Damone B. Jones Sr. (from left), Howard Brown and Chad Dion Lassiter counseled rapper Meek Mill while he was incarcerated.

I USED TO not understand why anyone would go out of their way to help Meek Mill get out of prison.

His music is profane. His lyrics can be crude. It's clear that he needs to respect the law, and that at 27 he still has a lot of growing up to do.

But I have nothing but respect for the three men who counseled Mill during his recent jail time.

Maybe Mill is on a better road now. He has had some good role models lately: the Rev. Damone B. Jones Sr., senior pastor of Bible Way Baptist Church in West Philly; Chad Dion Lassiter, president of Black Men at Penn School of Social Work Inc.; and Howard Brown, a Goldman Sachs alum who heads his own finance firm, Brown Holdings International.

That's one powerful trifecta. Each of these men is a power hitter in his own right. They're leaders in their respective fields. Yet, despite demanding schedules, they found the time and compassion to extend a hand to a young man in crisis. Last summer, Mill received a three-to-six-month prison sentence after violating probation from a 2009 gun-and-drug conviction.

"We went in with only the intention of trying to help him through this period," said Jones, who met with Mill on six or seven occasions before his release Tuesday.

During their visits, Mill reportedly talked about believing in God but not being a Christian. They dissected the poem "If We Must Die" by the celebrated Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay. The men dropped off books by the late novelist James Baldwin and evangelical pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life.

"I wanted him to see that he has a purpose that's bigger than his persona and he doesn't even know it," explained Lassiter, who met with Mill about a dozen times. "He was very open. That actually shocked me, personally."

Along the way, these unlikely acquaintances forged the beginnings of what could become lasting friendships.

 

No bravado

While locked up, Mill completed programs in drug treatment, anger management and parenting. My attempts to contact Mill - whose legal name is Robert Williams - were unsuccessful last week.

Over and over, the men talked about Mill's intellectual prowess and his optimism. No bravado was on display during their visits with him, they said.

"The Robert Williams side of him kind of drew me closer," said Jones, a member of the Philadelphia Prison Board of Trustees.

"He sat down in that room we were in, and I didn't have to work hard to connect," Jones added.

Jones, 48, had learned of Mill's legal troubles from his son Damone "Dae Dae" Jones Jr., a big fan of the homegrown recording artist. When Jones' son heard that Mill would be serving time at a local prison, he suggested that his dad reach out to him. Jones made a mental note of the request, and one day, while visiting another inmate, he decided to check in on Mill. "I walked in cold," Jones recalled. "That turned into a two-hour conversation."

The pastor emerged from that first meeting determined to channel resources to benefit Mill. He reached out to Lassiter, a fellow prison-board trustee.

Lassiter, 42, wasn't familiar with Mill's music, so he contacted Brown, who's a decade younger and a Mill fan. Brown told me that he bonded with Mill over the fact that both have young children. They also talked about Mill's long-term aspirations to build a prison.

"I realized that Meek - Robert Williams - looked up to Dr. Jones. He looks up to Chad," Brown said. "What kind of struck me was that he really cares about relationships."

If that's true, then he has some really good men to emulate. But he has to be willing.

"A lot of these guys say that stuff and then get out and they go back to the same lifestyle," said Bilal Quayyum, a local activist who has counseled the trouble-plagued rapper Beanie Sigel. "Is he man enough to accept his faults and make the change?"

That would be up to Mill.

 


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