By Sadef Ali Kully
Hollis-raised hip-hop business magnate Russell Simmons returned to Queens last week to join community leaders and police officers at the annual Keep the Peace initiative
The July 16 event, which took place at Count Basie Middle School 72 on Guy R. Brewer Boulevard in Jamaica, included a public group meditation, basketball game and a motivational talk by Simmons to more than 200 community youth.
The Keep the Peace initiative supports non-profit, community-based organizations and coalitions across the country that have developed unique and successful models for reducing violence in their neighborhoods. RushCard, a prepaid debit card company.
Six grant recipients were chosen this year in New Orleans, Chicago, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Los Angeles and New York. Each organization received $25,000 to help support and expand peacekeeping efforts and create opportunities to empower young people in their communities. Keep the Peace is a program under Rise to Thrive, RushCard’s community outreach initiative.
In New York, LIFE Camp, a South Jamaica-based anti-violence program, was awarded the grant for its efforts to reduce and de-escalate violent incidents in south Queens.
“The police are here for us. As much as we like to talk about police sensitivity—I like to talk about community sensitivity,” Simmons told the gathering of campers between the ages of 8 -17 years old from all across south Queens.
Simmons, a practitioner of jivamukti yoga for almost two decades, asked campers to quiet down, close their eyes and meditate for several minutes while repeating a mantra in the silent basketball court.
“A quiet mind gives us much better results, your judgment gets better, and then you realize whatever was troubling you goes away after a 20-minute meditation,” Simmons said. He pointed out that a child’s environment did not matter because meditation works anywhere and for anyone.
Though the young people at the event tried to calm their minds, just a few miles away Rochdale Village has been experiencing an increase in violent incidents, including one shooting death. Founder of LIFE Camp Erica Ford said it was the next target area for her organization.
“We have young people who are hurt and angry. We have older people who are paid to keep people safe who are hurt and hungry. Tools like these help transform,” Ford said. “The reason we came here to the Rochdale area is because over the last couple of months we have had five people die in this area. One just happened a couple of weeks ago.”
According to the latest statistics from the 113th Precinct, which has jurisdiction over Rochdale Village, there has been a 33 percent rise in murders, eight murders to date this year compared to six over the same period last year. Despite the rise in murders, overall crime is down by 19 percent.
“What works in this community are peacekeepers just by our brothers and sisters, in orange, being on the streets. Just by being out there creates a culture of peace,” Ford said.
Ford said volunteers in her organization, which chose orange as a color of peace, work with young people to teach them how to resolve conflicts. Most of her volunteers have also been formerly incarcerated so they have a deeper understanding of the tactics it takes to resolve problems. In the past, LIFE Camp has targeted the South Jamaica area, from Hillside Avenue and Sutphin Boulevard to Guy R. Brewer Boulevard to 118th Avenue, which has had no shooting deaths since December.
Simmons said organizations such as LIFE Camp combat the “jail culture” of the streets in a meaningful way.
“Wearing your pants low because belts are not allowed in prison, wearing no shoe laces because laces are not allowed in prison, that’s jail culture,” Simmons said.
Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skull