Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Jermaine Dupri, William Pate.
Photo: Mai Takenaka

On yet another cold winter day in New York City, high above the West Side Highway, a small group of luminaries representing the ATL descended on Manhattan to talk Super Bowl LIII.

Among them: Kate Atwood, Executive Director of ChooseATL; Dan Corso, Super Bowl LIII Host Committee Board of Directors and President of Atlanta Sports Council; William Pate, President and CEO of Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau; and two luminaries in our world—producer and businessman Jermaine Dupri and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

But as they talked about what has become an unofficial American holiday and what the Super Bowl will mean to Atlanta, the tension among black people trying to determine how best to respond to the NFL’s decision to ostracize Colin Kaepernick lingered in the air. The NFL’s ownership is led by white billionaires who ousted Kaepernick for daring to peacefully protest racial injustice and police brutality even as those men contributed millions of dollars to Donald Trump, a man who has done more than most in modern memory to dismantle and roll back efforts to fight discrimination. But it also includes black players who have launched mentorship and other programs and written books and lobbied law enforcement officials and politicians to fight systemic racism.

Black people may want the same thing—more black uplift and equality—but don’t agree on how best to achieve that goal in conjunction with the NFL, particularly since Kaepernick began kneeling and the league’s brass seemed more concerned with appeasing irate white fans who called Kaepernick un-American than listening to black fans who approve of and heavily support his cause. (There’s a deep racial divide.)

It’s why Dupri, Bottoms and other black icons will be involved with the Super Bowl in various capacities. But powerful black groups, such as Mothers of the Movement, won’t. They had planned to join Dupri’s efforts until a photo of Dupri sitting “comfortably” in a Waffle House with the Super Bowl trophy surfaced. They felt it showed Dupri was not taking the broader issues at hand seriously, given that a Waffle House was where a black woman was disrespected and assaulted by police last year.

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Lance Bottoms is maybe in the most unique position of all as mayor of the host city. She gave us every bit of the capable, conscientious city executive as she touted the bottom line as Atlanta prepared to host more than 300,000 visitors, most of whom would be arriving through Hartsfield-Jackson International, the world’s busiest airport.

“Anytime you have a chance to showcase your city on a worldwide stage, there’s that lasting economic impact,” the mayor said. “Even Tyler Perry tells the story of attending the infamous Freaknik—infamous if you didn’t like Freaknik—and how it made him then move back to Atlanta.”

“And I think that’s the bigger picture for our opportunity—that there will be a company or there will be visitors who will see our city who will want to return to our city or relocate to our city,” she continued. “So obviously there is the impact of having hundreds of thousands of people in our hotels—which are sold out—and also visiting our businesses in our city. But it really is in my opinion about presenting our city to the world stage.”

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Sitting next to the mayor was record mogul and producer Jermaine Dupri. The 46-year-old, in certain ways, is like the Mayor of Atlanta himself—at least of the music scene. For at least the last 30 years, Dupri has repped his city to the So So Def, (ha ha), and is deeply invested in getting Atlanta—and its artists—their propers when we get home.

“I wanted to touch on rehashing everybody’s memory and mind on how deep the [Atlanta] music scene is,” Dupri told The Root. “Because I don’t know of any city to just be like, R&B, Rap, R&B, Rap, R&B, rap [makes gestures of them switching out] to have that long run. There’s a lot of things going on in the city; it’s growing at an amazing pace. But music has been the heartbeat of that whole construction.”

As Super Bowl’s halftime line up was announced, Dupri immediately spoke out when Maroon 5 was announced as the headliner. He and others thought it disrespectful that a city and state so rich in music history (this was pre-Big Boi and Gladys Knight jumping on the bandwagon) should be excluded when it came to the big game. From that initial snub, Dupri said his “mind started spinning” on how to get as many artists from Atlanta involved with the huge platform.

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“And that, to me, started feeling more important than halftime,” Dupri said. “You have this many people in town, and 50 percent of the people might not go to the game. They’re just checking out the city, and why not give them the music? Why not give them the soundtrack while they’re there? Why not give them something they really won’t forget? And to put together all of these artists from Atlanta or Georgia, it became a project as opposed to just a halftime thing.”

The result is an outdoor music festival, Super Bowl LIVE, where Dupri partnered with the Super Bowl host committee and Verizon to produce a series of free concerts at Centennial Olympic Park, located within walking distance of the Super Bowl’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It features everyone from Monica, to The Jacks, to YoungBloodZ and the So So Def All Stars.

When Dupri initially spoke out, however, he faced criticism for even contemplating putting the show together. Several high profile artists had already allegedly boycotted the halftime set, including Cardi B, Jay Z and Rihanna, all in support of Kaepernick, who is suing the league for blackballing him for taking a public stance on police brutality in America.

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As reported by Atlanta Black Star, the Mothers of the Movement requested—and received—a meeting with Dupri. Although Dupri said he doesn’t feel artists or athletes have an “obligation” to advance social justice causes, he did say that they have a choice.

“Well, initially I wanted to do my part in making sure people understood, because people continually get this twisted as far as my reasons for doing [the shows],” Dupri said. “People keep saying, I’m getting paid a stupid amount of money and continuing to ignore my fight for Atlanta and the music scene and what I had to go through when I was younger to get this music accepted in places like this.”

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He continued: “That’s why I was telling the parents, like listen, you should come to my thing, I’m going to give you an opportunity to get on the stage and say what you gotta say.”

Although the Mothers of the Movement initially agreed to use the platform after the Jan. 5 meeting with Dupri, they reportedly pulled out on Wednesday after the Dupri Waffle House photo emerged, according to WPIX-11.

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They released the following statement through the Atlanta NAACP chapter:

In response to Mr. Dupri’s Instagram photo where he is seated comfortably in a Waffle House with the Lombardi Super Bowl trophy, the Mothers of the Movement respectfully decline the use of his platform. In April of 2018, 25-year-old Chikesia Clemons was tackled down on a Waffle House floor exposing her breasts. Last year, Former NFL QB Colin Kaepernick lost his job for taking a knee, a peaceful protest, against police brutality in black communities. It is only January 30, 2019, and there have already been 56 people killed by police in America, including 21-year-old Jimmy Atchison in historic southwest Atlanta. The father of two was shot in the face. He was unarmed.

On January 5, 2019, the Mothers of the Movement and Atlanta Activists sat down with Jermaine Dupri to express why boycotting the NFL was essential to the black community. At the end of the meeting, all parties had agreed that the mothers would speak during JD’s concert to raise awareness about the unnecessary police violence and brutality in the black community. We refuse to stand alongside any individual who does not have the best interest of our community in mind.

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“This [Super Bowl] is going to be done, like this [snaps fingers],” Dupri said last week to further explain his stance. “It took a lot to get here, but it’s coming very fast, and it’s going to be gone really fast, and when it’s gone, I still live in Atlanta, still making music from Atlanta.”

But perhaps for some, when the music dies, the injustice lingers. Perhaps Dupri is learning that some stages are meant for more.