People surround 21 Savage as he walks into the fourth annual Issa Back 2 School Drive on Sunday. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Photo: STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Photo: STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

‘It’s where I’m from’ — 21 Savage’s back-to-school event a hit

The day before the new school year starts in DeKalb County, thousands of families were treated to some free supplies and a visit from a local superstar.

Rapper 21 Savage hosted his fourth annual “Issa Back 2 School Drive” Sunday, drawing a crowd of over 3,000 and continuing his local charitable efforts.

“It’s important to give back, because these same people support me, so I support them,” the rapper, whose real name is Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Under overcast skies on a humid summer afternoon, families waited in line for free backpacks, shoes, clothing, haircuts and more. Abraham-Joseph also handed a $15,000 check to Juma, a nonprofit that employs young people and helps boost financial literacy among young people in Atlanta.

People surround 21 Savage at the fourth annual Issa Back 2 School Drive on Sunday. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Photo: STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Lines stretched across the shopping center parking lot off Glenwood Road in DeKalb. Abraham-Joseph said he remembers hanging out in the area, going to the club nearby and buying clothes from the 285 Flea Market.

It was the rapper’s first back-to-school drive since he was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in February. ICE claimed Abraham-Joseph has been illegally living in the U.S. since his family moved here when he was young. He was released on bond, and the case is still pending.

But the rapper calls DeKalb County home, and he is considered an Atlanta artist.

“He was a child when we came here,” his mother Heather said. “Every memory is over here in the U.S.”

» GALLERY: More scenes from Sunday’s school drive

Abraham-Joseph said growing up in Atlanta was an integral part of his life, and he wishes the case with ICE was “fake.”

“I wish these bullet holes go away, too, but it’s where I’m from,” he said. The rapper was shot six times in 2013, and his best friend was killed.

Outside of his wildly successful music career, Abraham-Joseph has made a name for himself because of the Issa Back 2 School drives and other charity work benefiting the community. The drive was named for his debut studio album, “Issa Album.” He has worked with Juma before in promoting financial literacy, and recently donated $25,000 to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Crowds surround rapper 21 Savage at the fourth annual Issa Back 2 School Drive. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Photo: STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

At the event Sunday, children ran to play in bounce castles, traverse a rock climbing wall and take part in other fun activities, while rap music blasted across the parking lot. Organizers estimated they gave out 2,300 backpacks stuffed with school supplies.

Then, the star arrived. Wearing a light pink T-shirt and keeping his cool composure, the star known as 21 Savage made his way through the crowd, surrounded by fans of all ages who took pictures and videos of the rapper.

Fans yelled: “21! We love you!” His advice to those young people was, “Don’t give up, and don’t throw your life away. Stay in it, it’ll work out in the end.”

» RELATED: 21 Savage shows his heart

It was Candace Jones’ first time attending one of the rapper’s back-to-school events. But the rising Benjamin Banneker High School junior was well aware of the investment he’s made in the area.

“He does it all the time, it’s exciting,” she said, while the crowd swarmed Abraham-Joseph at a DJ booth. His hit song “A Lot” was playing over the speakers. “I’m like, dang, he’s literally right here.”

» READ MORE: 21 Savage: Immigration enforcement system ‘broken’

Shontell Pitt arrived at the event with her two kids at 7 a.m. to beat the crowds. She also wanted to make sure she saw the rapper when he arrived.

“We really appreciate his support every year. He’s consistent, he’s always in the neighborhood,” she said, before picking up backpacks for her kids.

Pitt said she still views 21 Savage as a homegrown rapper, despite his immigration case. If anything, she said, it makes him more relatable, because “he’s dealing with actual life issues.”

“He goes from being an artist from the neighborhood, Glenwood, to someone dealing with something that the whole world is dealing with,” she said.

The event was done on behalf of the rapper’s Leading by Example Foundation, and presented by Antwanette McLaughlin of The Spice Group. Sponsors included Amazon Music and Momma Flystyle.

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