6:14 PM PT -- We got Meek getting off his tour bus and greeting some Crushers in Chicago before the Bears played the Packers in the first game of the 2019 NFL season, and everyone was all smiles.
Meek tells TMZ ... "The Chicago community has always supported me and I’m blessed to have the opportunity to give back to the Crusher’s Club."
He continues ... "Together with Inspire Change, we want to continue putting our youth in better positions to succeed, improve their communities and develop into the next generation of fearless leaders.”
We also got Sally, and she backed up the teen's story that he wanted her to cut his dreads. She says she didn't think anything of it when she tweeted the pic of his haircut, and says she was proud of him and wanted to show something positive.
One of the groups getting $200k from Meek Mill is getting blasted for a 2016 photo of its founder cutting a young man's locks -- but the kid himself says it's much ado about nothing.
The pic was tweeted by Crushers Club -- a Chicago youth empowerment group -- almost 3 years ago, and shows Sally Hazelgrove cutting the locks of a teen named Kobe. Someone on the Internet dug up the tweet after TMZ broke the story ... Meek would be donating money to Crushers Club.
The social media backlash is focused on the imagery -- a white woman cutting Kobe's locks -- and Sally's caption, "It's symbolic of change and their desire for a better life." People who are critical think it reeks of cultural insensitivity.
Kobe himself, though, says the critics have it all wrong. Once the Internet outrage began, he quickly posted a video explaining that HE wanted to cut his hair. "That's something I wanted to do because I was tired of it. Tired of gang banging, tired of messing up. Now, I'm a changed young man."
Meek Mill clearly agrees with Kobe when it comes to the work Crushers Club is doing for Chicago's at-risk youth. Meek is in the Windy City -- for his NFL Kickoff concert with Meghan Trainor and Rapsody -- and also to donate the $200k to Crushers.
We reached out to Hazelgrove and she echoed Kobe's statement -- that she was only cutting his hair at his request.
One source involved in Thursday's event said the attacks on Hazelgrove -- who's worked tirelessly for Chicago kids -- came off as reverse racism. Criticism aside ... the event and the donation are going forward as scheduled.