Russell Simmons, a Hollis native and entrepreneur who co-founded the music label Def Jam and created the fashion line Phat Farm, came back to southeast Queens on Thursday as part of his Keep the Peace initiative.
Through his prepaid credit card company know as Rush Card, Simmons gave $25,000 to LIFE Camp, a Jamaica-based nonprofit organization that prepares youth and adults to become leaders in their community. The grants are specifically for organizations that have developed unique and successful models for reducing violence in their neighborhoods.
LIFE Camp is one of six nonprofit community organizations nationally that will receive a grant through Simmons’ program. As part of his announcement, the hip-hop mogul hosted a basketball game at I.S. 72 in Jamaica between employees at LIFE Camp and the 113th Precinct, and a public group meditation.
“I’m here because basketball is the perfect place to teach this because in basketball all of you who play ball have been in the zone,” Simmons said. “Everything is moving in slow motion and you can see the rim. That has to do with being present. For thousands of years people have meditated. I meditate with my children every morning before I take them to school and I want to teach you to meditate. We quiet the mind so we can be successful in life.”
Simmons led the gymnasium at I.S. 72 filled with summer campers in a 7-minute meditation. After the meditation, LIFE Camp employees and members of the NYPD played an intense game of basketball in front of the young crowd. New York’s Finest beat LIFE Camp 53 to 47 but the chance to meet officers face to face was the most important part of the day, according to Jahaun Atkins, a former adviser for LIFE Camp who participated in the game.
“I think it’s bringing back a good synergy,” Atkins said. “It’s getting people who didn’t know each other to communicate and have fun. Nowadays we don’t know the police. Back in the day we used to know their names.”
Erica Ford, founder of LIFE Camp, said that her organization has helped curb violence by providing a presence in the streets. Employees, also called Peace Keepers, wear orange shirts and engage the community in conversation. Many of these employees have been formerly incarcerated.
“If we look at the contradictions that exist in our community today, we have young people who are hurt and angry, we have people who work with young people who are hurt and angry, we have older people who are paid to keep people safe who are hurt and angry,” Ford said. “If we don’t help people to give them tools to reduce their anger and to help bring compassion…to your job, then there is no safety in our streets, there is no transformation.”
According to Ford, the organization has been successful in keeping its target area, which is in Jamaica around Sutphin and Guy R. Brewer boulevards, violence- and gun-free for 217 days.