Vic Mensa's efforts to transform his community was seen under the bright lights of Lincoln Hall Friday (Mar. 16), with the launch of his Save Money, Save Life Foundation.
The inaugural gala paired with the foundation was hosted by Chi-Town poet-activist Malcolm London and co-founder Laundi Keepseagle, with memorable performances from DJ Oreo, NEXT alum Jamila Woods, and of course, Mensa himself. The evening also included an awards ceremony and a silent auction of artwork from locally based artists.
“[I wanted to launch the foundation after] being around the organization and movement spaces to try to broaden my reach with that work,” Mensa tells VIBE. “I really put my head together with some resourceful, intelligent, driven people to try to make a quantifiable change in the City of Chicago to begin with and in communities across the world.”
Inside Lincoln Hall’s intimate venue, the seated guests were handsomely fed with a large banquet of African and Caribbean cuisine. Patrons enjoyed mingling at their tables and open bar, while classic '70s R&B played in the background.
As the evening’s dinner kicked off, the master of ceremonies, Malcolm London explained the importance of changing the narrative of what’s happening in Chicago while dispelling the racist ideology of “black-on-black crime”.
"I want to abolish a term which is called black on black crime." -Malcolm London
"I say that not to say that black people don’t do harm to other black people, but when we talk about crime we racialize violence. We don’t talk about any other violence in the city of Chicago or in this country in a radicalized way,” explained the Westside poet. “What this does is paint this narrative that black folks are inherently more violent than anybody else which is atrociously untrue.”
London transitioned to closing with one of his works called, “When a Black Boy Dies on The Westside.”
From there, Vic Mensa – born, Victor Kwesi Mensah – arrived on stage with a cast and boot around his foot from a motorcycle accident to deliver opening statements and a poem titled, “PTSD.”
Save Money Save Life is designed to support three Chicago-based programs. The first is the Street Medics program where residents of the city’s most underserved neighborhoods will be trained to become first responders in treating victims of gun violence on their own, in conjunction with Ujima Medics (who they will merge with).
Second is a program dedicated to bringing professional therapists and graduate students back in the neglected Chicago Public Schools to alleviate the mental health crisis among its students. And finally, the UniVerse program will assist black and indigenous American youth to help them grow in the arts and academics.
During his speech, Mensa spoke about his mother, Betsy Mensah who worked in Chicago Public Schools, telling him stories about the dilapidated and unsanitary conditions that the students and staff were subjected to.
“What this says to the kids growing up in our city is that ‘you’re not worth it,’ And I believe that we’re all worth it, I believe that we’re worth everything,” he stated.
The evening transitioned to the awards ceremony where Chicago activists Lauren Miller and Amika Tendaji (of Ujima Medics), and the foundation’s first intern, Thelonious Stokes were all honored for their contributions across the city.
Next came the soulful singer-activist, Jamila Woods who rocked the stage. Her and her band not only performed the signature cuts like “Holy," “LSD," and “HEAVN” from her album HEAVN, but she thrilled fans as she gave electrifyingly soulful renditions of Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in The Name” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” She then went into her signature love anthem for black women, “Blk Girl Soldier.”
Not one to be outdone, Vic Mensa came to the stage with his full performing glory in a black pinstriped suit. Fans felt the bass pulsating through their torsos when “Wolves” blared through the speakers and the Hyde Park rapper came out with a bang.
Through it all, he never veered away from the event’s purpose and reminded fans how important their support was not only in reshaping the narrative of Chicago, but bringing all Chicagoans together to aid its underserved and drained neighborhoods.
“Honestly, all of us being Chicagoans, there are a lot of misconceptions and one-sided views that people have about Chicago,” the rapper said.
"They don’t think about this when they think Chicago, a multicultural room of young people under 25 trying to rebuild a city in turmoil." - Vic Mensa
"They just think about gang banging, murder and death. When you have a situation where the community has only been drained, it’s only been taken from and there’s never been anything being given. You’re taking young men and locking them up, you’re taking the good and experienced teachers and putting them in schools that are wealthier.
Prior to the event, VIBE caught up with Mensa to talk about National Walkout Day, his foundation and so much more.
Wednesday was a historic day across the country with National Walkout Day. Have you heard about the students arrested at Kenwood Academy by Chicago Police?
Vic Mensa: Yeah, I can see that. I remember when I was in high school we did a walkout [in 2010]. There were budget cuts in Chicago, a lot of budget cuts. They were proposed to cut a lot of buses to school so we organized a walk-out, we walked to the City Hall building and had a demonstration. And we were — I think we were able to impact the situation in a way. A lot of those cuts were reversed and none of those teachers were fired.
Do you believe that the Chicago Police Department is intentionally stalling progress? And I mean when it comes to arresting the kids who are protesting (on National Walkout Day) and going back as far as 2014 when you were involved in the LaQuan McDonald protest.
Oh, hell yeah! CPD is a racist organization and they have a long-standing, historical background of being an oppressive, racist organization. CPD has been investigated and have been reported to act upon racial bias. CPD is the same organization that lied about LaQuan McDonald’s video and withheld it from the public until the process of law and they absolutely had to produce it. That is what we are supposed to expect from an American police force because America is a racist nation.
The police are overseers and slave catchers, literally. The evolution of the slave catcher is the police.
So, this is what we’re supposed to expect, not that it’s right or that we should accept it, but expect it, yes.
Like you and your classmates did during your walk out in 2010, albeit on a smaller scale compared to this instance, will the protest have an effect on gun reform in the long run?
I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t think that’s up to me even — what’s the point in trying to make predictions? I do say that I applaud those kids and they should keep going. They got my support and I stand with them. I don’t have faith in the American justice system at all so to sacrifice even a fraction of the monetary gain for the lives of children because capitalism in its extreme forms is not the most humane of hierarchies. A dollar bill beats everything and that’s what this is about. This is about them holding every last dollar from every gun, every piece of ammunition, every accessory, so we’ll see if these kids will be able to back them into a corner because they never act out of good will, obviously. They only act when their interests are damaged.
Bringing it back to the SMSL Foundation. How would street medics work across the black and brown neighborhoods in Chicago?
Statistics show us that people are dying because ambulances are taking too long in our neighborhoods because the trauma units are too far away. You’re more likely to live if you get a private car to the hospital instead of calling an ambulance. And so, we want to put the power in the hands of the community to be able to save their own brothers, sons, fathers, and sisters whenever possible. On a broader scale, to start building infrastructure in our own communities in a way that Hasidic Jews have Ambulances in their own communities in certain cities and we have to establish that in our communities.
As far as the therapy aspect of your foundation, how do you plan on involving a greater number of black and brown therapists in these schools?
We’re going to be working with a couple universities to get graduate students that there doing their dissertations and work-study to get them involved and getting mental health professionals or caseworkers in the schools. We want to amplify and place more focus on mental health among the youth in our communities and it’s the same thing when it comes to first aid response.
The program was inspired by an organization that I met in Palestine that did very similar training in Gaza which is under siege. [But] honestly, I’m not really looking to reinvent the wheel here. I’m just trying to demand that these corporations who profit from the community invest back into it and I can’t stop saying it enough. Every time someone asks me why is Chicago in such a tumultuous and messy position because everything has been sucked up and there’s no investment. There’s only been leaching from the community. I’m just trying to put some resources in the community.
Considering the many new, diverse voices coming from Chicago right now, do you believe that the narrative is successfully changing?
I think that we are successfully adding to the narrative. I think that the new voices and old voices, the best we can do is to control our actions. We can’t dictate what somebody in the White House says about it. We can’t dictate what’s written about in major media. We dictate how we move and we’re completely adding to the narrative. It’s not completely in our control though because mass media is manipulative.
If you are still interested in supporting the SMSL Foundation, their GoFundMe account is still accepting donations from fans to meet their $150,000 goal.