The rapper Meek Mill surprised hundreds of uniform-clad students at his alma mater, North Philadelphia's James G. Blaine School, Wednesday morning.
Only minutes earlier, the room had been calm, as principal Gianeen Anyika led them in reciting the Blaine pledge: "We are smart, talented, and peaceful."
Once Mill appeared, however, "peaceful" was out the window as students waved, shouted, and posed for selfies.
Mill visited Blaine to donate a backpack filled with school supplies to every student. The donation was supported by Puma, his longtime sponsor.
"I just wanted to come back and share my support to my hometown and the first school I ever attended," the "Millidelphia" rapper said.
Mill's visit to Blaine was part of a collaboration between the rapper and the School District of Philadelphia to donate more than 6,000 backpacks to students in need. Donated school supplies will also be distributed at Strawberry Mansion High School (another Mill alma mater), Wright Elementary, Edward Gideon School, Edison High School, William Dick School, William D. Kelley School, Mastbaum High School, LINC High School, Benjamin Franklin High School, Randolph Technical High School, and the U School.
Assistant superintendent Amelia Coleman Brown said, "I'm also a native of North Philadelphia, so to have [Mill] come back and be a model of what it is to work hard and make your dreams come true, as you can see, it's exciting for the students, it's great motivation to start the school year." She said the new backpacks will make a huge difference for young students.
Mill's face lit up as he handed young fans their backpacks, gamely exchanging fist bumps and smiling for pictures.
"It's a good feeling, I've been up all night, I was in the studio all night till 7 in the morning, flew here, came and gave out book bags and met the children. I seem a little ruffled but… it's out of love for the people in my city," Mill, who is headlining this weekend's Made in America festival, said.
The adults in attendance mirrored Mill's message of support: "We're all here this morning to celebrate you," said superintendent William R. Hite Jr. Mayor Kenney said, "All the adults in this room love you and care about you." He joked that he was getting old and called on Blaine students to succeed him, pointing out that they are the future.
"Some people need it because some parents can't afford it," seventh grader Jon'et Stratford said of the gift.
"I was like this," said seventh grader A'Keira Nelson, demonstrating her response by screaming and clapping.
"He came to our school," added seventh grader Sabrina Gaymon.
Mill was released from prison in April after serving time for probation violations stemming from a 2007 arrest. Mill was sentenced to two to four years in prison, but in April, the state Supreme Court granted the rapper "extraordinary relief" amid questions about his arresting officer, allowing him to be released from prison on bail. Mill has been busy since his release, creating the Legends of Summer EP and speaking out on social justice reform.