Erica Ford (left to right), Hasaun Muhammad, Russell Simmons and DMX
BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
Hollis native, hip hop mogul and RushCard co-founder Russell Simmons held a Day of Peace on Thursday in Queens, during which he advocated for the end of youth violence through RushCard’s Keep the Peace initiative and encouraged the students of PS 993, MS 72 and Redwood Middle School to use meditation as a tool.
Through RushCard’s nationwide program, it donates funding to organizations each year that are working to reduce youth violence.
This year, RushCard has donated $25,000 to Peacekeepers program in Chicago and Atlanta, the Boys Hope Girls Hope program in Cincinnati, Community Coalition in Los Angeles and, for the third year in a row, Baisely Park Houses’ Love Ignites Freedom Through Education (LIFE) Camp—an anti-violence program that works with active gang members to keep the peace and encourage young people to act against violence.
“This community right now has more violence than it’s had in a very long time, and it’s more amongst young people,” Simmons told the PRESS of Southeast Queens.
The majority of the camp counselors at LIFE Camp and Keep the Peace have served time in prison and serve as an example to youths as to why jail time should not be glorified, Simmons said.
The schoolyard was filled with students and staff in orange T-shirts that read “Keep The Peace RushCard,” with “Text PEACEFORCE to 51555” on the back.
At the beginning of the event, Simmons held a meditation session and delivered motivational remarks.
“The meditation is like this, the world is moving around you and you are watching the world. That’s your real life all the time,” Simmons told the children. “People are doing things around you. They’re making noise, but you are the watcher. This way, you can decide what you want instead of doing what they’re doing. It gives you peace of mind, so you can go out into the world, make choices on your own that are good for you.”
Simmons told the students that he wants them to sit still, be patient and expect that they can do anything they imagine. He said it is important that they meditate and gain self-awareness.
“There’s always going to be that one person that is trying to take you off point to get you in trouble, to make you cheat, to make you cut, to make you drink, to make you smoke, to make you pick up a gun, to make you have sex when you’re not ready, to make you do what you aren’t supposed to do,” CEO and LIFE Camp founder Erica Ford said. “There’s always going to be that one person. And so the importance of meditation is that you can control your mind, your life, your actions, no matter what is happening around you. That is very important. Do not go following behind somebody who is leading you to your death and your demise. Learn to get tools that will keep you alive.”
Simmons reiterated Ford’s words by adding, “You are who you hang with.”
Rapper DMX, who has served prison time, also dropped by the event to speak to the youths.
“Nothing is impossible,” said DMX. “You’re at the age right now that you can accomplish anything you want as long as you put your mind to it.”
The rapper also shared how he overcame his obstacles.
“Whenever I went through something, it brought me closer to God,” said DMX. “And I stayed into something, so now I’m closer to God. But because closer is hard, because the tides get stronger, it’s much harder to fight and they last longer. But that’s what it’s always been. Joy with the pain, dark with the light, sun with the rain, but with the right perspective, there can be something to gain.”
DMX told the students that trying times in his life helped bring him closer to his spiritual side.
“Everything is about perspective,” said DMX. “It’s how you look at it that makes all the difference in the world.”
He concluded his speech by telling the students that they have their whole lives ahead of them, so it’s important for them to be grateful.
Up-and-coming artists ArnStar and Robby Nova performed their new single, “One Love, One Life,” which is a song meant to promote peace and spread love.
Nova told the PRESS of Southeast Queens that events for the youths—such as Simmons’ event—are important.
“It’s important to tell them at this age because if they get it instilled in them now, they have a better chance going when they’re in high school and college and to avoid bad situations,” said Nova. “A lot of times, kids hear it too late when they’re in the situations. If we can prevent it now and bring celebs here to inspire them, it’s a great thing.”
Ford, who said that she hoped the program would help deter violent incidents at MS 72, told the PRESS of Southeast Queens after the event that she was proud of the children.
“I’m in this school every day, watching them fight all day and show disrespect,” said Ford. “They sat there for three whole minutes.”
Simmons chimed in to say that it’s important that kids are given a chance.
“You have to give them some type of opportunity,” said Simmons. “I feel like people are always condemning them, instead of inspiring them. I don’t think they’re giving them the tools they need. Adults don’t have the tools they need.
That’s the reason why Erica wants to learn to meditate because we know for thousands of years that’s been one of the best solutions and yet we don’t put it in our schools.
Simmons said that he travels around the country and sees the need for meditation, but it’s not part of academic programs.
“I feel like what Erica is trying to do is give them the tools because consciousness is what everybody is seeking,” said Simmons. “No one wants anything, but presence. That’s the only time happiness occurs and everything people do is directed towards that. But they take the wrong direction that cycles the same negative behavior and pain and suffering. The way out of suffering is a quiet mind.”
Kelise McCord, a student at MS 72, said she hopes that students at her school will stop fighting and that she enjoyed Simmons’ event.
“I feel like today is a good experience because my school is crazy,” said McCord. “I feel that LIFE Camp can help us out.”
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144, firstname.lastname@example.org or @reporter_ariel.