Here’s What Jussie Smollett’s Community Service Looked Like

A special visitor showed up several days ago at 930 East 50th Street, a former synagogue now known in Chicago and beyond as the headquarters of Rainbow/Push, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson’s civil rights organization.

Over two days, Saturday and Monday, the visitor, the “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, spoke with high school students who were thinking about college. He hawked civil rights gear at the upstairs bookstore. He gave tips to the social media, television production and marketing staffs. He promised to keep in touch.

The staff was “grateful for the opportunity to work with such a talented and humble personality,” Mr. Jackson wrote in a letter.

For Mr. Smollett, the visit may have been an opportunity as well.

In explaining their decision to drop all charges on Tuesday against Mr. Smollett, who had been accused of faking a hate crime attack, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office noted that Mr. Smollett had no history of violent crime or other felonies, his agreement to forfeit his $10,000 bond payment and his “volunteer service in the community.”

[A timeline of events of the Smollett case.]

The statement raised several questions, including whether the community service was part of a deal to end the case (a prosecutor said it was; Smollett’s lawyers said there had been no quid pro quo). 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 Mr. Smollett, who is also a singer, had done at the national conference of the Kennedy Forum, an organization run by the 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, whose chief executive wrote that he had “never worked with anyone who was more willing than Jussie to spend his talent, time and money to help other people.”

And on Saturday, as his legal team was finalizing talks with prosecutors about dropping the case, Mr. Smollett turned up at Rainbow/Push.

According to Mr. Jackson’s letter, Mr. Smollett spent several hours with students who wanted to join the organization’s annual tour of historically black colleges. He spoke with them about the importance of discipline and a good attitude, and answered questions about the music and film industries.

[Read more on the case: A bizarre narrative with Chicago as the backdrop.]

At the store, which sells books, clothing and memorabilia about civil rights, he spent time “encouraging visitors to purchase Push gear” and offered tips on how the store could market its products to a younger demographic, Mr. Jackson wrote.

Mr. Smollett gave advice on production techniques and social media outreach to the staff that creates a weekly broadcast on the Impact television network, and he gave additional advice to the Rainbow/Push membership team.

He said he was interested in a long-term relationship with Rainbow/Push, including building a choir for the broadcast. “He has been of tremendous value to our staff and our work,” Mr. Jackson wrote.

Mr. 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.” Mr. Smollett maintains his innocence, saying he had not planned the attack that he reported to the police on Jan. 29. Prosecutors said their decision did not exonerate him, but that the circumstances of the case, as well as the $10,000 payment and the community service, justified the dropping of the charges.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose police department spent many hours on the case, called the decision a “whitewash of justice,” and other critics seized on their belief that prosecutors had let Mr. Smollett off with just two days of service.

“You let him work off ‘community service’ with a couple of days doing odd jobs at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition,” wrote John Kass, a Chicago Tribune columnist, adding that he hoped that Mr. Smollett had “sold a few Jesse Jackson action figures.”

The Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell wrote, “Does Smollett deserve special consideration because he is an actor and because he has done community service in the past?”

In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Jackson said that Mr. Smollett, who has a history of social activism, had volunteered with Rainbow/Push in the past. “He became more intensely involved this weekend,” Mr. Jackson said.

He compared Mr. Smollett to Johnnie Lee Savory, who had been convicted of murdering two teenagers in Peoria and spent nearly 30 years in prison. He denied killing the pair, and two witnesses recanted their testimony. He was eventually pardoned, and is now a member of Rainbow/Push.

As for the mayor’s outrage, Mr. Jackson said that Mr. Emanuel had shown “far less intensity” over the killing of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, by a Chicago police officer who had shot him 16 times. The officer was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to nearly seven years in prison.

In a separate interview, Tina Glandian, one of Mr. Smollett’s lawyers, disputed the notion that he had escaped prosecution by helping out with Mr. Jackson’s group.

“It was not compulsory whatsoever,” Ms. Glandian said. “Him volunteering for the Push Coalition is completely in line with his years of service.”

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