This year, Meek Mill is in Atlanta for the next big game — but mindful of all the work that he says still remains to be done in criminal justice reform

A year, from one Super Bowl to the next, has brought a world of change for rapper Meek Mill.

In February 2018, even as his hometown Philadelphia team was preparing to face-off against the New England Patriots, he was behind bars on a controversial parole violation that had inspired a massive grassroots effort to see him freed.

Two months later, he walked out on bail after being sentenced to two-to-four years for violating parole in a 2008 case for which his attorneys argued he was wrongfully convicted.

This year, he’s in Atlanta for the next big game — but mindful of all the work that he says still remains to be done in criminal justice reform.

During a brief performance at Michael Rubin’s Fanatics Super Bowl Party in Atlanta on Saturday, he told the crowd, “We here at Super Bowl weekend but never forget what’s free in life. I represent equality, I come from the black community where we get treated unfairly sometimes, we go through situations that everybody don’t have to go through.”

Credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Mill, 31, then lauded Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Rubin, head of Fanatics and co-owner of the 76ers. Both businessman, at the party with Mill, had joined him in launching The Reform Alliance to push for criminal justice reform and free those who they say are unfairly kept prisoner.

“I want to give a special shout-out to Robert Kraft, to Michael Rubin, people that come from different worlds that came down and lended their hand to me and helped me fix a situation we going through,” he said. Then, ever the entertainer, added: “If you got love for justice reform, make some noise one time.”

Mill was joined onstage by Cardi B, whom Rubin said had been the first person “to make a generous donation” to their new group.

Before his performance, Mill was asked by reporters what it meant to be celebrating the Super Bowl nearly a year after he left prison in April 2018.

“I’m happy to be at the Fanatics party, this is my friend’s party. I’m happy to be at the Super Bowl. This is my friend’s team playing at the Super Bowl,” he said.

He continued: “I hope that even with the NFL everything … the topics people are addressing about equality and all that, I stand for that.”

Mill then pointed to a series of stitches, scar-like, along his right eyebrow.

“I actually been beat by the police, I been falsely accused by the police,” he said.

“I’m here to support,” he explained, “and these guys are partners on my foundation that represent something for people that look like me and people that get caught up in injustice every day.”

Speaking with PEOPLE at the party, Rubin said Mill is like family to him — a brother in all but blood.

“A year ago this guy was sitting in prison,” Rubin said. “I was at the Super Bowl in Minneapolis trying to figure out how to get him out of prison. Now this guy’s top. … We took his negative situation, we turned it into a major positive so he couldn’t be doing any better. He’s focused not only on building his career but how do we get 1 million-plus people that are unfairly caught in the system out of the system?”

Rubin said Mill has “always been built like that, he’s always taken every negative into a positive.” It’s part of what bonded them: “different backgrounds same mentality.”