Hip-hop mogul offers young gunslingers free tickets to Beyoncé concert if they turn in their weapons
26 February 2013 | 3291 Views
A millionaire hip-hop mogul has a bold plan to rid New York City streets of firearms: He wants to offer young gunslingers who turn in their weapons mentorships ... and Beyoncé concert tickets.
Michael (Blue) Williams, the head of Family Tree Entertainment, has pitched the city's first private-sector gun buyback program to NYPD brass and is waiting for Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly's okay.
"We want to get as many guns off the streets, and if this works, we'd like to support it," Kelly told the Daily News, adding that the proposal needs more study.
If given the green light, Williams — who has managed the wildly successful careers of OutKast and Cee-Lo Green and has the ear of hip-hop and rap royalty — said he'll solicit help from none other than Beyoncé.
"The Beyoncé show is coming to Brooklyn; the Jay-Z show is coming to Yankee Stadium. Our goal is to reach out to individuals who are in my industry, in my world and who I have an association with and get their support," Williams, 43, said Monday.
"I think we should all work together to help get guns off the streets," Williams said.
Beyoncé is slated to perform at Brooklyn's Barclays Center in August, while Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake are set to play Yankee Stadium in July. Williams hopes to also talk Jay-Z into the guns for tickets deal — once police sign off on it.
Williams hopes to launch the program — dubbed "Guns for Greatness" — on March 23 at a Brooklyn church.
Kelly said the police would have to be involved.
"You need police officers present. You'd need the expertise," Kelly said.
Williams has raised $75,000 for the program is working to boost that figure to $100,000.
"This program aims to provide young people with an opportunity to receive guidance and inspiration from committed mentors, an important option that will enable them to experience possibilities other than a life surrounded by gun violence and unnecessary shootings and killing," Williams' letter to Kelly reads.
Hot 97 radio, the International House of Pancakes and several record labels, including Polo Grounds Music and Primary Wave Music, have also signed on.
Williams said he was prompted to do something about gun violence after his business partner, Chris Lighty, co-founder of Violator records, shot himself to death in August. He said his own recent arrest for bringing a gun he had registered in Georgia but not in New York through LaGuardia Airport was also an "eye-opening experience."
"It was just sort of like a pushing point," Williams said. "It eventually convinced me that one person can make a difference if they believe in something."
He sent a written proposal to Kelly on Friday after meeting with top police brass.
The letter was co-signed by Richard Buery, president and CEO of the Children's Aid Society; L. Londell McMillan, publisher of The Source magazine; and former federal prosecutor Kenneth Thompson.
"I was very excited to lend any assistance I could because I think what he (Williams) has developed is unprecedented," said Thompson, 46, a candidate for Brooklyn district attorney. "Blue has set up a way to reach these young men."
Thompson, who went into private practice after helping to prosecute cops involved in the infamous Abner Louima torture case, envisioned the program serving as a model across the nation.
"He doesn't have to do this," he said of Williams, who has made a fortune in a hip-hop management career spanning 20 years. "He's doing this because it's the right thing to do."
The program will aim at enticing young black and Latino men ages 16 to 36 to give up their weapons for a chance at an alternative to gun violence.
In the letter to Kelly, Williams noted that "95% of shooting victims and shooting suspects in New York City are either black or Latino."
"A disturbingly high number of these victims are young people," the letter reads. "As Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Mayors Against Illegal Guns and others have noted strongly, the issue of gun violence is an urgent crisis that requires immediate attention."
Williams said the initiative would be similar to the current NYPD gun-buyback program offering up to $250 cash for weapons surrendered anonymously with no questions asked.
But anyone who seizes the opportunity to sign up for a mentorship with major movers and shakers from an array of industries — including the recording business and finance — will receive a bonus, he said.
"You can make a decision to take that money and walk back out, or you can make the choice to get a mentor," said Williams, raised in the south Bronx by a single mother who was a school principal.
"In my perfect world, I'd love to have a gift package for signing up for the mentorship program that is worth way more than $250," he said. "I think that when you're dealing with younger people, you have to offer a little more to incentivize them," he said.
The NYPD's gun-buyback efforts began in 2008 with the collection of 2,632 firearms, but public participation has drastically dwindled since. Last year, only 941 guns were surrendered.
And Williams suggested the demographic turning over guns to the NYPD includes very few of the young hip-hop fans he deals with on a daily basis.
"That's the audience they need to reach out for, the ones who are carrying the guns and committing the crimes. That's my sweet spot, so to speak," Williams said.
While it remains unclear if Beyoncé will lend her support to Williams' program, the superstar and her husband, Jay-Z, were criticized by the singer and social activist Harry Belafonte in August for not doing enough to combat social ills.
"I think one of the great abuses of this modern time is that we should have had such high-profile artists, powerful celebrities. But they have turned their back on social responsibility," Belafonte told the Hollywood Reporter.
"That goes for Jay-Z and Beyoncé, for example. Give me Bruce Springsteen, and now you're talking. I really think he is black," Belafonte said.
Beyoncé representatives shot back with a statement citing "the unselfish work Beyoncé has done and continues to do."
The list included co-founding The Survivor Foundation, a multipurpose community outreach facility in downtown Houston, and donating $100,000 in 2008 to the Gulf Coast Ike Relief Fund to aid Texas victims of Hurricane Ike.
Beyoncé also performed in MTV's Hope for Haiti Now! Benefit.
The singer also contributed to the annual World Humanitarian Day initiative by releasing a video of her 2011 ballad "I Was Here," which was filmed at the United Nation's General Assembly, her representatives added.
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