Russell Simmons on drug laws, Elections, Cosby Comments and Giving Back

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Russell perused the menu and supped on a bowl of potato broccoli, spinach ravioli and live almond humus at one of his favorite restaurants in the East Village during our recent interview. A vegan, Simmons, knows the importance of live food, positive mindset and a healthy and spiritual lifestyle.

Simmons has his regal fingers in a few humanitarian pies at this juncture of his life. An opponent of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, he is planning a New York march on August 30th in opposition to these harsh laws. The march is a follow up to last year’s celebrity packed rally when the likes of P Diddy, Mariah Carey, Susan Sarandon and Andrew Cuomo, and others, joined forces to get these laws repealed.

Once again, it is Simmons’ intention to show the government how serious he is about repealing these unfair laws. “We are one of the only ones that do have a permit. I don’t know whether Governor George Pataki realizes how big this march will be and what it could do to potentially affect his relationship with the Black community and really all people in New York State,� says the hip hop mogul. “But Pataki will feel it! There were a series of hearings called by Senator Joseph Bruno and by the Senate and the Assembly. They were in agreement to do something about the laws, I understand. However, I heard that the governor was the most recent person to keep it from happening. Originally, Pataki seemed like he was helping and now it seems like he is standing in the way. With elections coming up, it’s a political time for these guys to get this done. So, things can change. But for now, if you ask the assembly or the senate what and who is stalling the repeal, they point the finger at the governor.�

Simmons adds: “My work is about making the Rockefeller Drug Laws less harsh. Also, to make certain that some of these unfortunate examples don’t happen any longer. I am referring to the example of people who have never committed a crime serving lengthy sentences of up to 25 years under the Rockefeller Drug Laws. A hundred million dollars is being wasted incarcerating these people. It’s a misappropriation of funds by the government. I don’t think incarcerating people for using drugs is the way to go. There are other ways to help these people.

“For example, this thing with Bill Cosby and the comments he made. I don’t think what he said was wrong. I just don’t think his comments are helpful. I think people are trying to do the best they can in the situations they are in. So, what good are Bill’s comments? Perhaps the dialogue he created and the discussions he has created within the community are important. However, his blaming the community and people the way he did, is hurtful. I give Bill a pass because he has done so much. He has given money to schools and worked with kids. It’s nice and great what Bill does. However, I think when you are fortunate it becomes your personal responsibility to help to uplift. The good things that Bill does, is his personal responsibility. He should do that. Everyone knows what they should be doing. If there are people fortunate enough to have a shortcut to opportunity, than share it. Create those opportunities. Do something! Don’t criticize or blame those less fortunate. Also, it serves no purpose to make judgment about people’s language and culture. Judgment is B.S!�

Simmons goes on to say that it is far better to lead by example. “Wake up in the morning and decide what your contribution will be,� he continues. “I think Cosby forgot there was a time he wore a dashiki and sported an afro. In my opinion, telling Black people they need to improve themselves doesn’t really help them. People already know what they should be doing. People know when situations are bad -- they don’t need Cosby to tell them. Bill should concentrate on uplifting people and doing something to make people feel better. That is the better service to contribute. That is doing something good. I also think it’s the personal responsibility for people like Bill O’Reilly to push programs that uplift people. Instead, based on his comments, he appears to prefer to embrace the negatives. Reading O’Reilly’s comments one would think O’Reilly thinks: ‘See, those Niggers ain’t shit!’ What Bill Cosby said is what people like Bill O’Reilly most likely want to hear because it confirms something for them—whether it’s true or not. Cosby is way too powerful a figure to make statements such as the ones he made because what he said, does not inspire anyone.�

Simmons is doing his part to try to help, uplift and inspire. One way he is helping the community is by teaching African American youth how to political empower themselves through his voter registration drive. “I am in the community every other weekend trying to register voters. That is the kind of work that helps us as a community. Through the Foundation of African Understanding there are several positive programs that I put my money into. I try to live by example. I practice, promote and help people connect to their higher self through art. Through the Hip Hop Summit Action Network we go around the country talking to kids. Artists talk to kids in an attempt to uplift them by telling them to get an education and by supporting them in their goals. That is the best I can do,� explains the head of Rush Communications, and the creator of Phat Farm, Def Pictures and the Def Jam label.

He has clear views on the political climate. “I notice that politically the entire country is turning to a more rigid point of view,� says Simmons. “I personally think the reason many Black people are liberal is because they have a feeling that they are next. I spend a lot of my money, registering voters, because it’s part of a process. For each person that registers it’s a step toward waking up and taking part. Once you get a voter’s registration card it makes you feel part of the community. It’s a mind-set. People need to realize that there is power and strength in numbers. As an individual you are not as strong as you would be as part of the whole.�

“I am the Chairman of an organization called the Foundation of Ethnic Understanding. I work alongside Rabbi Synder who is the president. Recently, we went up to Capitol Hill with the Black Caucus, the Jewish Caucus, the Hispanic Caucus and the Asian Caucus. We all came together to try and get government to pay more attention to the issues in Sudan. Later, I met with Minister Farrakhan after speaking with Rabbi Synder. I am a big fan of the Nation of Islam. They never do anything to hurt anyone. In fact, they do a lot to help the Black community. I am the last person to be ‘anti’ anything because I don’t want to hurt anyone or anything. I like to stand in the center and pull all the positive forces together,� remarks Simmons.

“I am sure the government would love to stand and monitor everything I do because I am doing so much to try and help the different communities. 80% of the people who buy our records are not Black but they listen closely to hip hop music and are becoming sensitized to the plight of the poor. These youths are making changes. These youth are not going to vote to keep doing what we have been doing. So, I am sure this administration is not happy with what people like me are doing. Personally, I don’t believe we would be at war had Al Gore become president. That is why I am pushing this voter drive. Our slogan is: ‘Vote or Die.’�

Talking about his greatest strength, Simmons reflected on the art of giving. “I started practicing the art of Yoga and began reading scripture. I do it every day. My brother is a reverend and it was he who influenced me to start giving. My greatest strength is “conscious giving� and being aware that giving is one of the only purposes for any of us to be on earth. When you give out of that true concept of giving that is when you are really giving. I owe my success to those around me. My wife, Kimora, for example, is going to make more money this year than I am. What she is doing through the Simmons Jewelry Company is wonderful. Kimora intends to write a check giving away 1/3 of all the profits from Simmons Jewelry. If you give people support, you end up benefiting from that. That is my gift. My gift is to know when others are smarter than me and to help them realize their talents so that they benefit. And, as a result, I benefit, too.�

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