As rising racism and antisemitism on the far right bring bigotry increasingly into the mainstream of American life, a Super Bowl-winning NFL team owner and a platinum-selling musical artist took center stage at the NAACP convention in Boston on Sunday and said the Black and Jewish communities must work hand-in-hand to combat hate.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Grammy-nominated rapper Meek Mill, along with Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and NAACP president and chief executive Derrick Johnson, participated in a moderated discussion on racism, antisemitism, and “building bridges to fight all hate,” according to the civil rights organization.
“People are trying to put boulders between the Black community and the Jewish community. And we’ve always been uniquely tied together,” Kraft said. “And I want us to continue [to] build those ties.”
Gates argued that the Black and Jewish communities must stand united. “We have to join hands together to defeat white supremacy, because Jews and Black people have a common enemy,” Gates said.
The discussion came less than a day after US Vice President Kamala Harris came to the convention with a warning that people must remain vigilant in protecting their rights amid a resurgence of white supremacy and efforts to restrict voting rights.
“There is so much that we have achieved, and so, so much to celebrate,” Harris said Saturday night. “And we are in a moment where there is a full-on attempt to attack hard-fought and hard-won rights and freedoms and liberty.”
Organizations that track extremist activity say hate crimes have been increasing in recent years. In Massachusetts, the Anti-Defamation League reported in May that hate crimes had grown overall by a third in 2022. That violence included a surge in antisemitic incidents, as well as white supremacist activity and attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, the organization said.
Across the United States, hate crimes soared in 2020 and 2021, according to FBI statistics examined by the New York Times in March.
Sunday’s discussion of intersecting biases, moderated by Fox Sports analyst Joy Taylor, was part of the NAACP’s 114th annual convention, which drew more than 10,000 people to the Seaport’s Boston Convention and Exposition Center for the national civil rights group’s first conference in Boston in more than 40 years.
During the hour-long discussion, Gates said anti-Black racism is the “twin side” of antisemitism, and someone who hates Black people will also hate Jews. And both forms of hate are deeply rooted in Western culture, he said.
He said former president Donald J. Trump has been nurturing people who feel this animosity.
“Donald Trump feeds these people. He feeds their hatred, and they’re looking for scapegoats,” Gates said.
Kraft launched a $25 million “Stand Up to Jewish Hate” campaign in March through the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism, which he established in 2019. He noted the violence that has targeted Jews in recent years, including the deadly Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh in 2018, and linked it to the threats directed at other marginalized groups.
“We need people not to be silent, when they see [hate] against any minority, whether [they] be Jewish, Black, gay, Asian, Muslim — whatever it may be — we have to push back to keep the values of this country strong,” Kraft said.
The discussion also turned to the years-long friendship between Kraft and Mill.
In 2019 the pair, along with Philadelphia 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin, rapper Jay-Z, and CNN commentator Van Jones started the REFORM Alliance, a group that has been lobbying states to change local probation and parole laws as part of criminal justice reform.
Mill — born Robert Rihmeek Williams — has spoken about his experiences in the criminal justice system. In 2017, Mill was sentenced to two to four years in prison by a Philadelphia judge for probation violations in connection with an arrest in 2007, when Mill was 19, according to National Public Radio.
Mill’s case drew the attention of criminal justice reform advocates, including Kraft and Rubin, who visited Mill in a Pennsylvania prison in 2018.
A year later, Mill pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor firearm charge, and prosecutors dismissed all remaining charges in the case, NPR reported.
During Sunday’s conversation, Mill talked about how Kraft’s outreach led Mill to learn more about the Jewish community. Mill described a deeply personal experience that he and Kraft shared earlier this year while visiting Poland, where the two participated in the “March of the Living” at the Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex to commemorate Holocaust victims and survivors.
“We got a tour in Poland about what they did to Jewish people. . . . They tattooed numbers on them and called them by numbers,” Mill said. “It was so humiliating to them that it made them not value themselves.”
Mill drew a comparison with his experience in prison. “They was calling us by numbers, you know, when they could have called us by our names,” he said.
Before the discussion, Governor Maura Healey, in a roughly 14-minute speech, said the NAACP convention comes at a time when the “hard won” gains of civil rights are under attack.
Some leaders empower white nationalism, and deny young people “knowledge of our country’s history in the dangerous belief that our ignorance should guide our future,” Healey said.
Voting rights are being taken away, and bans are being enacted on affirmative action, as well as diversity and inclusion, she said. But Massachusetts is poised to push back, Healey argued.
“At this time, in this moment, you are in the right place to fight back, you are in the right place to move forward and advance the cause of freedom,” Healey said.