Robert Kraft and Meek Mill may appear at first glance to be an unlikely duo. One is an 82-year-old multi-billionaire who parlayed his fortune into ownership of the New England Patriots. The other is a Philadelphia rapper less than half that age whose music has inspired people around the world and whose struggles with the legal system have rendered him an icon of criminal justice reform.
But on Sunday at the NAACP National Convention in Boston's Seaport district, they spoke in one voice against racism and antisemitism.
At a panel called “Hate Has No Home: Racism, Anti-Semitism and Building Bridges to Fight Hate,” Mill and Kraft were joined by historian and professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson to discuss how antisemitism and racism against Black people have been historically connected—and what can be done to combat the disturbing rise in hate propaganda in the United States.
Kraft, who launched the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism, expressed his concern that hate is having a deeply negative impact on the country. According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were 3,697 documented instances of anti-Semitic acts in the U.S. last year, the highest number in the group's record. Massachusetts had 152 recorded cases, the sixth highest number in the nation.
“We have to stand together and stand proud and push back on this to keep the vibrancy of this country,” Kraft said on the panel Sunday.
Kraft also spoke on how visiting Mill in prison made a profound impact on him. Mill was sentenced in 2017 to spend up to four years in state prison in Pennsylvania for a probation violation, although he was released the following year.
Kraft recalled visiting him and thinking about what else he could be doing with his life.
“He’s in a jail on a ridiculous item and we’re a paying, as a society, to keep him there because of a crazy, bigoted system. And so we have to change that,” Kraft said to applause from the crowd.
Mill, who joined Kraft on a trip to the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz in Poland earlier this year, drew parallels between what he saw there and other injustices he's seen.
“And I tell Robert, it’s sort of like when you’re watching the news, you see a 30-second clip of a young girl killed in the hood,” he said. “I would believe you all…would all care about it, but it’s hard to attach to it if you wasn’t physically involved. You know, Robert took me there and I seen that for my own self and it just gave me what it gave him when he came to the prison and seen me, you know?”
Gates quoted writer bell hooks by saying that white supremacy "relies on the maintenance of anti-Black racism and anti-Semitism."
“I tell my students at Harvard that under the floorboards of Western culture run two streams,” Gates said. “One is anti-Black racism and one is anti-Semitism. And anytime a demagogue wants to stir up people, they just lift up the floorboards and dipper out all that hatred against our people and against our Jewish brothers and sisters.”
For Kraft, his message was simple: unity is necessary to combat hate.
“In the case of the Jewish people, we can’t solve this problem on our own. We need everybody working with us,” he said. “And Professor Gates is right, people are trying to put boulders between the Black community and the Jewish community. And we’ve always been unique. Uniquely tied together. And I want us to continue that and any way we can build those ties. I’d like to be part of that.”