Jay Z has teamed up with Weinstein Television and Spike TV to shine the story of Kalief Browder, a young African American man who took his own life after spending three years at Rikers Island without being convicted of a crime.
“Our prophets come in many different shapes and forms, and different mediums,” Jay Z told reporters at a press conference in New York City on Thursday. “This young man, just by the fact that he brought all of us here today, lets you know how powerful of a soul he was.”
For those unfamiliar with the story of Browder, he was just 16 years old when he was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack in the Bronx. He was sent to Rikers Island after his family was unable to post bail, and spent three years there — two of which were spent in solitary confinement. Browder was ultimately released from Rikers Island, and the charges against him were dropped after the case failed to go to trial. But being a free man couldn’t change the horrors that Browder went through while imprisoned. He committed suicide on June 6, 2015.
Jay Z actually met Browder shortly after his release. The 46-year-old rapper and businessman asked for his assistant to find Browder after hearing his story. A chance run in with Browder’s lawyer, Paul Prestia, resulted in the then 19- year-old meeting Jay Z.
“Kalief came to the office and we met,” Jay Z said. “I just wanted to give him words of encouragement, that I saw his story and that I’m proud of him for making it through and to keep pushing. He told me that he was going to college.”
When Jay Z found out that Browder took his own life, he knew that that was not how his story was supposed to end. Jay Z brought the Kalief Browder docuseries to film producer and studio executive Harvey Weinstein. Together they pitched the project to Spike TV.
“ I don’t think that we do a lot of these, so we can pay a lot of attention to it,” said President of Spike Kevin Kay. “We’re in 90 million homes, we have an audience that we know is interested in justice and this is a story hopefully about justice … We want this story to be told and I think that’s part of the reason this team brought it to us, because they know that we’re not going to bury it. We’re going to tell it and promote it.”
“TIME: The Kalief Browder Story,” is a six-part event that will air on Spike in January 2016. The docuseries includes real footage from Browder’s time at Rikers Island, footage that may be considered disturbing to some. In one clip showed to the media, viewers could see Kalief’s brief interrogation. Another clip shows him getting beat by prison guards.
“I can’t reveal my sources, but I obtained [the footage] and it’s important for people to see this young teenager,” director Jenner Furst emphasized at the press conference. “[It’s] very ironic that the clock is zoomed in on, because that was really the minute, the second that his life took a dramatic and horrible turn. That’s how fragile his life was and many young people of colors life is in America. That one simple second, one five minute interaction can change your life forever and it did for Kalief Browder, so I’m glad we obtained it and I think it’s an important thing to look at.”
“TIME: The Kalief Browder Story” will premiere on Spike in January 2016.