A special visitor showed up several days ago at 930 E. 50th St., a former synagogue now known in Chicago and beyond as the headquarters of Rainbow/Push, Rev. Jesse Jackson’s civil rights organization.
Over two days, Saturday and Monday, the visitor, “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, spoke with high school students who were thinking about college. He hawked civil rights gear at the upstairs bookstore.
For Smollett, the visit may have been an opportunity as well.
In explaining its decision to drop all charges Tuesday against Smollett, who had been accused of faking a hate crime attack, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office noted Smollett’s lack of previous criminal history, his agreement to forfeit his $10,000 bond payment and his “volunteer service in the community.”
The statement raised several questions, including whether the community service was part of a deal to end the case. It also left many wondering: just what service had Smollett done?
A batch of letters and memos from various organizations, released by the state’s attorney’s office, provided some answers.
They mentioned performances that Smollett, who is also a singer, had done at the national conference of the Kennedy Forum, an organization run by former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy that focuses on mental health; appearances at the Catalyst Circle Rock School, a predominantly black charter school in Chicago; and work with the City Lights Orchestra, the Boys & Girls Club and the Black AIDS Institute.
And Saturday, as his legal team was finalizing talks with prosecutors about dropping the case, Smollett turned up at Rainbow/Push.
Smollett, who is black and gay, had been accused of falsifying a hate crime to get attention in a bid for a higher salary from “Empire.” Smollett maintains his innocence, saying he had not planned the attack he reported to police Jan. 29. Prosecutors said their decision did not exonerate him, but the circumstances of the case, as well as the $10,000 payment and the community service, justified the dropping of the charges.
In an interview today, Jackson said Smollett had volunteered with Rainbow/Push in the past.
Tina Glandian, one of Smollett’s lawyers, disputed the notions he had escaped prosecution by helping out with Jackson’s group.
“It was not compulsory whatsoever,” Glandian said. “Him volunteering for the Push Coalition is completely in line with his years of service.”