LL Cool J and Russell Simmons come back to their roots

By Juan Soto

Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and artist LL Cool J again walked the southeast Queens streets they were raised in.

They were together on the newly renovated basketball court of the Baisley Park Houses in South Jamaica to launch a national campaign to help curb crime.

Simmons, Hollis-born founder of the prepaid debit card company RushCard, donated approximately $100,000 to Queens’ LIFE Camp, a nonprofit that intervenes to end fights and encourages people to avoid violence. RushCard provides grants to neighborhood organizations.

“We are here to lobby for peace,” said Erica Ford, LIFE Camp founder, during a rally at the eight-building complex.

Wearing an orange T-shirt that read: “I am present for peace,” Simmons, 56, said that efforts made by LIFE Camp to end youth violence work.

“She [Erica Ford] saves lives on a regular basis,” said the founder of the Def Jam music label, bullhorn in hand and speaking underneath one of the new basketball hoops at the Baisley Park Houses.

Rapper and actor LL Cool J said the visit to Baisley Park Houses, with a population of more than 1,000 residents, “helped me reconnect with family, friends and the place I come from.”

More than 100 people attended the rally.

The artist, who grew up in nearby St. Albans, encouraged young men to stay away from violence and believe in themselves.

“If I could do what I have done in my life,” the actor said, “anybody can do it because I am no different from you.”

Before arriving at the Baisley Park Houses, Simmons and LL Cool J met with a group of young people at Rikers Island and encouraged them to get back to society and become important members of their communities.

With the goal of making southeast Queens safer, LIFE Camp will partner with the Peace Keepers, an Ohio-based organization that groups together people to patrol the neighborhoods they live in to curb violence in the area. Although crime is down, gang-related violence is a big problem in some southeast Queens neighborhoods.

“I hope a lot of young men join the Peace Keepers,” Simmons said.

Dennis Muhammed, founder of the Peace Keepers, was also at the Baisley Park Houses with Simmons and LL Cool J.

“This is now ground zero,” he said. “This is the fist place where there will be no violence,” he added.

The idea is to train around 100 men to “patrol and protect the community.” He said the program “is phenomenal and it works. We are here to promote peace.”

Reach reporter Juan Soto by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone 718-260-4564.

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