A Catalyst For Change
Artist: Russell Simmons
Interviewer: Roosevelt Treasurechest
Russell Simmons has always been a catalyst for change. Along with RickRubin, Run-DMC, LL Cool J, and the Beastie Boys, Simmons changed the face ofpopular culture forever. He later birthed the concept of Hip Hop as abusiness, and has changed the faces of Forbes Magazine as well in theprocess. But perhaps Simmons' greatest accomplishments come in the form ofhis philanthropic organizations and his power to motivate others so thatthey may be their own catalysts for change.
Last week, Russell Simmons announced publicly that he was supporting BarackObama in the 2008 presidential election. Simmons cited Obama's own power forchange and ability to mobilize voters of all ages and ethnicities asdeciding factors for his endorsement.
Roosevelt Treasuechest of RubyHornet caught up with Simmons last week viaemail to talk about the endorsement, Obama's role in uniting peoples ofmultiple races, and education reform. Check it out.
Roosevelt Treasurechest: In your support of Barack Obama, you mention hisgreat ability to mobilize and motivate young people in particular. When welast spoke, you talked in-depth about the power of positive thinking, andvisualizing your success. Given Barack's speeches and philosophy, thisendorsement seems natural. Why did you decide that now was the right time,and what role did the laws mentioned in "Do You" play in your decision?
Russell Simmons: I've seen something very spiritual come out of the Obamacampaign, a transformative component. People who were not inspired are nowinspired. That inspiration is what we'll need to promote real change. It'simpossible to make a lot of the major change we need without the people'ssupport. When the people take to the streets for change, the politicians whorepresent them are forced to make change. If not, the people are left tocount on the politicians and the lobbyists to represent their interests. Oneof the major themes in "Do You" is getting in touch with the spirit in youto see in your heart what's true for you. Feeling that component in Obama'scampaign and getting to know him better did that for me.
Roosevelt Treasurechest: Senator Clinton's main criticism of Barack Obamahas been that he makes great speeches, yet lacks experience and may not beable to follow-through. With your endorsement you are in effect saying thatyou believe he can follow-through, what exactly has given you thatconfidence?
Russell Simmons: One great example is his ability to run this tremendouscampaign. Out of nowhere, he has emerged as a leader and the highest pollingcandidate for the office of president of the United States. That was aninspiration to me and spoke volumes about his ability to get things done.
Roosevelt Treasurechest: In the last election, many artists andentertainers worked very hard to mobilize young people and specifically theHip Hop generation. In your eyes, what has been learned by the mobilizationefforts of 2004 (i.e. Vote or Die), and how can we take what happened in '04and improve upon it?
Russell Simmons: We already are. We can see voters registered in 04 comingout in primaries.
Roosevelt Treasurechest: You say in your endorsement that Barack Obama willcontinue to transcend race in America and have a very profound impact onthose issues. What do you see as that impact?
Russell Simmons: Obama has positioned himself as an American candidate, nota black candidate. He is sensitive to the issues of the poor and underservedin this country and I believe he will make that one of his priorities aspresident. And, by seeing himself as a president for all Americans, Ibelieve he will be a great equalizer in working to make life better for allAmericans.
Roosevelt Treasurechest: Lastly, for a couple years I was a teacher as partof Teach For America, a non-profit organization aimed at closing theachievement gap. During my time at TFA I taught in an area of Chicago knownas Englewood. The school I taught at has very low-funds, the neighborhoodis high in poverty and crime, and the students are far behind grade-level.What do you see as necessary to improve all of our country's schools, andhow could Barack Obama spearhead a movement for Education reform?
Russell Simmons: When you don't fund education, you leave children behind.So funding is of paramount importance. There were a couple of things Obamasaid that inspired me. Art education. When you promote art and creativity ina child, it sparks their imagination. Kids need inspiration to go to work.My Transcendental Meditation practice has been very valuable to me inlearning how to achieve focus. That same program, if put into theseunderperforming schools, would help young people focus and improve grades.Repeating mantras teaches kids to focus. The schools that have implementedthis program create quiet time in school where the kids practice theirmeditation. Children that are diagnosed with ADD may be helped through thiskind of program. Instead of giving them pills, we could teach themmeditation. And not just for those kids, but all kids. If you go to theschools around the country currently utilizing this program, you would see adramatic difference in the children and the results they achieve.