Russell Simmons and LL Cool J came to Jamaica on Thursday to launch an initiative to stem youth violence in American cities.
Simmons, a Hollis native and a titan in the music and fashion industries, came to the Baisley Park Houses in Jamaica with the rap star and actor to announce the formation of RushCard’s Keep the Peace Initiative.
RushCard, a financial services company that Simmons founded, will fund programs in Queens and three other cities in an effort to work with youth to stop violence and promote peace.
Keep the Peace operates under #RiseToThrive, RushCard’s community outreach initiative.
More than 100 people attended the rally, which took place in the complex’s playground.
They included Erica Ford of the South Jamaica Cure Violence Program. Ford founded LIFE Camp, a nonprofit group that promotes peace in Queens, in 2002.
It is one of five community organizations Simmons said Keep the Peace will fund in New York, Baltimore, Chicago and Los Angeles.
“She saves lives,” Simmons told the crowd. “I’m proud to work with someone who saves lives.”
Ford said Simmons has been quietly helping her effort for years.
“This is wonderful,” she said. “He’s helped us a lot.”
LL Cool J’s success as a rap star has allowed him to branch out into acting. He currently co-stars on the hit CBS drama “NCIS: Los Angeles.”
“People still remember me as the guy from Farmers [Boulevard],” said the St. Albans-raised entertainer. “I’m no different than you. I’m no better than you. If I made it, you can too.”
Both mingled freely with the crowd, chatting and posing for pictures. Earlier in the day the two men spent time at the Rikers Island Adolescent Reception and Detention Center, speaking to a group of about 500.
“There were a lot of positive vibes in that room,” he said. “Unfortunately, when we left, we had to leave a lot of young men there.”
But he considers it important to do if it can help youth turn themselves around.
“Healing has to come from inside,” he said. “It has to come from you.”
Among LL Cool J’s community efforts in Queens is the annual Jump & Ball Tournament, a month-long youth basketball competition that takes place on weekends through the month of August and is preparing for its 10th year.
Following the rally, Dennis Mohammed of the group Peace Keepers led a men-only gathering at a nearby community center.
The group, with chapters in 10 states and the United Kingdom, encourages and challenges men to take responsibility for keeping their communities safe.
He said some of the topics discussed would include things from men patrolling their communities to both how police interact with them and how they should interact with police.
“We want to be proactive; not just reactive,” Mohammed said.