Rapper and actor T.I. is making news for what his lawyer deems an unjust arrest, but many of the headlines he’s generated lately revolve around his many civic contributions.
In February, he and a local Walmart teamed up to give away hundreds of free tickets to the locally filmed blockbuster “Black Panther.”
In addition to the Walmart giveaway, he and his wife Tiny hosted a “Black Panther” screening for hundreds of students from Tri-Cities, Benjamin E. Mays, Druid Hills high schools and Usher’s New Look Foundation. The event was a joint project of his new nonprofit charitable organization, Harris Community Works, and the Los Angeles-based nonprofit, Go For Yours. Students were selected for the screening on the strength of their academic and extracurricular achievements.
“You’re the real heroes!” T.I. told them.
PHOTOS: T.I.’s community leadership
In March, the artist known as Clifford Harris Jr. announced that he had participated in talks meant to resolve things after a local restaurant patron felt discriminated against after her large party was turned away.
And in December 2016, he made a Christmastime visit to the halfway house where he was once in custody, eager to spread holiday cheer and encouragement.
Dismas Charities is a transitional housing facility in southwest Atlanta where about 200 men and women transitioning from federal institutions spend the last portions of their sentences, ranging from 30 months to a year.
“I myself spent a Christmas here, fresh out of prison,” he said then. “I know what it feels like to not be able to spend Christmas with your kids.”
His “message to those transitioning back to their communities: “Continue to take it a day at a time. Don’t get frustrated for not being able to do too much, too fast. Make sure your tomorrow is better than your yesterday.”
T.I. and Dismas director Stephen Ricks greeted each other warmly during the 2016 visit.
“T.I. was here twice,” Ricks said. “He’s walked this building. He’s slept in these dorms. It’s meaningful for someone of his stature to come back.”
It was in 2010 that a federal judge – declaring that T.I. “has had about the limit of second chances” – sent T.I. back into custody for violating his probation. U.S. District Judge Charles Pannell Jr. had sentenced Harris to a year and a day in prison on weapons charges resulting from an October 2007 incident when T.I. was arrested for sending a bodyguard to purchase machine guns and silencers.
The unprecedented sentencing deal shaved almost four years off a potential sentence, provided Harris perform 1,000 hours of community service. The service included visits with schoolchildren to speak out against violence, gangs and drugs.
T.I. was still on probation when he was arrested Sept. 1, 2010, in Los Angeles. He and his wife were taken into custody during a traffic stop in West Hollywood in which deputies said they smelled a strong odor of marijuana from inside the car. They were soon released on bond.
U.S. Attorney Sally Yates said she supported the initial deal and believed T.I. had reached large numbers of youth.
“I screwed up, ” T.I. told the court at the time. “I screwed up big time, and I’m sorry. I’m truly and sincerely sorry. I don’t want and I don’t need to use drugs anymore. I want them out of my life.”
Ricks said T.I., or Clifford Harris Jr. as he’s properly known, was a low-maintenance inmate who often bought meals for his fellow inmates.
“He was very generous when he was here,” Ricks said. “He benefited from being around your everyday average person. It keeps him grounded.”
Prior to his visit to Dismas he brought gifts to young patients at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Afterward he was scheduled to deliver gifts and assistance to single moms and their kids who live in a nearby community.
“I’m ecstatic to be in a position to give back,” he said. “It was awesome to see so many smiles on so many children’s faces.”