A year after Vic Mensa started his SaveMoneySaveLife Foundation to help Chicago residents in underserved areas train to become first responders in treating victims of gun violence, among other programs, the foundation is launching an awards show — and expanding its efforts beyond Mensa’s hometown.
Slated for April 12 in Chicago, the as-yet-unnamed event is not your average trophy fest. Instead, it will recognize global music artists who’ve excelled in five areas: anti-gun violence, sustainable change, environmental works, love and compassion, and youth and mentorship. The awards will also include artist performances, which are in the works and under wraps until the official announcement on March 16—SaveMoneySaveLife’s one-year anniversary.
“We’re positioning it like the Grammy Awards, but instead of best album, we’re going to have awards for biggest contribution [to end] gun violence, and other special awards,” said Laundi Keepseagle, director of the foundation, who hinted to Billboard one of the performances will be by a disbanded R&B/soul act whose members are coming together for the event.
Mensa, to whom mingling music and messaging against societal injustice is second nature, recently has collaborated with Ty Dolla $ign, Travis Barker and Charlie Wilson. Monday night (Feb. 11) in Washington, D.C., he was equally at home performing and speaking about the Street Medics program among activists, politicians and other artists at the principal rally for the Toms Shoes End Gun Violence Together campaign, which launched in November with a $5 million donation to a coalition of gun violence organizations.
“I’ve lost a lot of people to violence and seen a lot of my comrades’ potential cut short. And I feel it’s my duty, my responsibility to them to advocate and be present as an agent for change in the community,” Mensa told Billboard. “I’ve always felt like music is a vehicle for me to express the things that matter to me, and humanity matters to me. Justice matters to me so those are the things that always find their way into my music.”
The Toms campaign for three months has traversed the country and collected more than 750,000 postcards in support of new legislation that calls for universal background checks before the sale of firearms. The House of Representatives unveiled the bill, H.R. 8, on Jan. 8, eight years to the day a bullet struck former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) in the head and nearly took her life.
Among others who joined company founder Blake Mycoskie last night on stage were actor Taye Diggs; music artist MILCK; DC Mayor Muriel Bowser; Manuel and Patricia Oliver, Change the Ref founders and parents of Joaquin Oliver, who was killed at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School; Matt Dietsch, March For Our Lives chief strategist; Yolanda Renee King and Martin Luther King III, activists and granddaughter and son of Coretta Scott King and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), co-author of H.R. 8.
After moments of silence, of tears, of chants and promises to stay vigilant, Mycoskie told the crowd among the biggest lessons he’s learned on the road “is that every single voice really does matter, that we all have a responsibility, whatever out platform is, to together demand change in our country to make it safer. And we’re not going to stop.” First order of business the next day was heading to Congress to deliver those postcards.
Diggs told Billboard he was happy to use his platform to advance conversation, and action, around gun-sense laws. “Every little bit helps, and this is another step in the right direction,” he said. “I have 9-year-old son and even though I have not been personally affected by this issue, it is close to my heart because of that looming possibility.”
For Mensa, heading to Capitol Hill in numbers is a calculated power play. “We want them to see we are powerful and that they need us,” he told Billboard. “I feel our purpose is less to appeal to the humanity of Capitol Hill because they operate from a place of power, that’s what matters to politicians. And 700,000-plus people, constituents of theirs, demanding action is power. So that’s why we’re here—to represent that power.”
SaveMoneySaveLife plans to extend the empowerment of Street Medics training—with the Bronx, NY, and several Native American communities high on the list for 2019.
“Chicago is an epicenter of gun violence, so we’ve been training and equipping people in the community to be first aid responders in the event, the very likely event, that they will witness these forms of heinous violence,” Mensa said. “There are a lot of people doing that work already; there just needs to be more volume and a broader frame of influence and longer reach.”