Women in Music 2016

Alicia Keys Urges Congress to Support Criminal Justice Reform Bill

AP Photo/Molly Riley
Alicia Keys speaks after being awarding the Recording Academy's Recording Artists' Coalition Award at the Grammys On The Hill Awards in Washington on April 15, 2015. 

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Alicia Keys made an impassioned plea to lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Monday regarding a landmark bipartisan bill that could significantly reduce minimum sentencing for non-violent drug offenders.

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After spending time earlier in the day with Baltimore families who have been devastated by the incarceration of their relatives, many of whom were under 18 when sentenced for non-violent offenses, Keys related heartbreaking stories to congressional staffers to drum up more support for the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which a Senate committee voted in favor of last week. The singer, a long-time social justice activist, was joined by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and civil rights activist Van Jones.

Keys told The Guardian after the hearing, “We can no longer afford to be this cruel to our young ... It’s heartless.”

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“Who would have trust when you’re attacked, and when you’re not given the opportunity to express yourself?” Keys asked. “When you’re just automatically judged that you’re there doing something wrong, whether you are or not.”

Though appearing before Congress to support a cause celebre can sometimes come off as more of a publicity stunt than anything for celebrities, Keys' commitment to social justice is nothing new. She started the We Are Here movement last year to utilize her massive fan base to draw attention to a multitude of causes, from gun laws to gay rights. Her appearance Monday was a small step towards her greater effort to “gather an army,” as she put it to The New York Times last fall. On Monday she asked those in attendance to sign an online petition that she will deliver to the White House once it reaches 1 million signatures.