LOS ANGELES—Rapper Travis Scott has launched a $5 million community-based initiative as part of his effort to help heal his community following the tragic death of fans who were killed after his concert at Astroworld. However, critics may be asking are these efforts sincere, is it merely damage control and how can you tell?
Project HEAL kicked off by opening $1 million in scholarship applications for 100 high school seniors experiencing financial hardship in their second semester senior year, but who plan to attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). The donations are made through the Waymon Webster Scholarship Fund, named after Mr. Scott’s grandfather. Students are encouraged to apply for immediate help through the cactusjack.foundation.
“Over the past few months I’ve been taking the time and space to grieve, reflect and do my part to heal my community. Most importantly, I want to use my resources and platform moving forward towards actionable change. This will be a lifelong journey for me and my family,” Mr. Scott said in an Instagram post, which had over 1.3 million likes on March 9.
He believes the program will be a catalyst to real change. It includes an initiative which focuses much-needed resources on support services, such as digital counseling, telephone hotlines, and free programs with licensed professional counselors and social workers for young people in lower-income communities of color, which lack available, accessible, affordable mental health options.
“I will always honor the victims of the Astroworld tragedy who remain in my heart forever. Giving back and creating opportunities for the youth is something I’ve always done and will continue to do as long as I have the chance,” said Mr. Scott.
Not everyone agrees.
According to Rolling Stone, the family of nine-year-old Ezra Blount—the youngest of the 10 fans killed in a crowd surge as the rapper performed in November 2021—criticized the initiative and labeled it a ploy to curry favor with potential jurors in the high-profile case. “It’s a PR stunt,” Tericia Blount, Ezra’s grandmother stated, according to the publication.
“He’s pretty much trying to sway the jurors before they’re even assembled. He’s trying to make himself look good, but it doesn’t look that way to someone with our eyes. What we’re seeing is that he’s done wrong, and now he’s trying to be the good guy and trying to give his own verdict on safety,” Ms. Blount added. Hundreds were also injured.
According to Rolling Stone, the lawyer representing Ezra Blount’s father, Treston, filed an emergency motion on March 9, arguing Travis Scott’s Project HEAL announcement may have violated the gag order in the “mountain of lawsuits filed over the festival tragedy.” Judge Kristen Hawkins did not immediately rule on the motion.
Reportedly, over 500 lawsuits have been filed since the incident, among them, a demand of $10 billion for resolution of all cases.
Questions about liability still remain. Will the entertainer be liable for the disaster or entities such as the promoter or other contractors like those who handled security? The tragedy occurred November 5, 2021, on the festival’s first night which was held at NRG Park in Houston.
In addition to Mr. Scott, defendants in a lawsuit filed in November 2021 includes Apple, Live Nation, ScoreMore Shows, security firms Contemporary Services Corp. and Apex Security, record label Epic, the Cactus Jack label owned by Mr. Scott, the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp., which operates NRG Park, the venue of the festival, Valle Security Texas, and ParaDocs on hand for medical services, and even rapper Drake, who guest performed.
The nature of the concert seemed like a recipe for danger to Houston-based personal injury attorney Warren Muhammad. Fans were packed to the point of standing, pushing and jumping, he noted.
“A number of people called me and asked me if I wanted to be a part of going after potential plaintiffs to file lawsuits in the case, and I decided I didn’t want to be a part of that. Because it seemed to me that it was a feeding frenzy, and lawyers were advertising, creating websites, paying people as runners to go out and pay people to find someone who was at the event, whether they got hurt or not, or they just saw something,” Atty. Warren Muhammad told The Final Call.
That is not to discount the right of people who were legitimately injured and who lost their lives to file suit against those negligent, he said. How much damage could be controlled, when one considers Mr. Scott’s new program and the actual damage that was done in terms of lives lost and trauma? “I don’t see any correlation between the two,” said Atty. Warren Muhammad.
He feels the tragic event and subsequent lawsuits will run its course, and Mr. Scott had to go on with his life and career, which includes doing the charitable things he has been doing.
“If this was his first run, his first charity event, I may look at it differently. The first thing I thought was when was this foundation formed? Two weeks ago? No. It was formed two years ago,” Atty. Warren Muhammad continued.
One HBCU student who asked that their name and school be withheld, feels that the Astroworld Festival was handled poorly, and that the tragedy really wasn’t the rapper’s fault.
“I think it’s also unfair that majority of the blame is being put on Travis Scott, and not the people in charge of the concert,” said the student, who feels promoters need to improve immediately with security.
“I’ve done security for different events of all sorts and I’ve seen how lazy a lot of people could be. I’ve seen how lazy, if you give anybody a shirt with ‘security’ on the back, they’re really in it for the money, but no real draw to actually protect anybody,” said the student. “People are saying his program is a thing to distract people from really what happened, but what do you guys want him to do: repent for what he did or just live with the fact that people died at the concert?”
However, longtime Houston-based activist Deric Muhammad argued, what is happening is damage control, because it could have been done without a press release. “It may be something that Travis is doing from his heart, but his public relations folks are like, no. We need to put this out there, because they’re trying to clean up his name and clean up his brand, so that he can get back to his money-making ways and doing his concerts and things of that nature so that everybody who eats off of him can continue to fill their bellies,” the Black, male youth mentor argued.
He said it is a crazy game, but he won’t go so far as saying Mr. Scott is not sincere. He feels Live Nation should bear the brunt of responsibility because they were the concert promoters.
At the end of the day, he feels the point of Mr. Scott’s handlers is to spend a $5 million tax write-off in hopes of $100 million in publicity for the purpose of damage control.
“That’s the game. I get it, but you don’t know whether or not it’s worth anything until you see if anybody really benefits from it,” said Deric Muhammad.
“You know how they say what the enemy intends for evil, God intends for good? His handlers, his people may just be doing this strictly for damage control, but if people are helped in the process, then it’s all good.”