On Thursday, LL Cool J and Russell Simmons launched a new anti-violence program and gave life advice to the youngest inmates of Rikers Island. Traci Donnelly, CEO and Executive Director of The Child Center of NY, joined Erica Ford, along with other artists and community leaders, for an event that helped youth learn how to control both their physical energy and their minds.
Erica Ford–founder of LIFE Camp, Inc, an organization that prevents youth violence and partners with Russell Simmons’ RushCard “Keep the Peace Initiative”–opened up the event at Robert N. Davoren Center. Erica introduced two former inmates who shared about their lives growing up in South Jamaica, their incarceration, and time in solitary confinement. One broke into tears as he encouraged the teens to realize that jail isn’t who they are–just where they wound up–and that they can make a change.
LL Cool J shared with the teens about his own childhood trauma and success against the odds. As a child, he saw his father shoot his mother and grandmother and was told his mother would never walk again. He encouraged them: Keep striving, have dreams, and don’t get distracted from them. Leave bad influences and old friends behind, surrounding yourself with people who want the same thing you do.
Then came the Bartendaz’s workout routine of chin-ups and pushups, demonstrating how to channel energy into physical fitness. Artists Robbie Nova and C3 performed and invited an aspiring young rapper onto the stage. A budding comedian got to rib LL Cool J on his compulsive lip-licking in music videos and asked why, when a concert isn’t going well, he takes off his shirt.
Russell Simmons, founder of hip hop label Def Jam and RushCard’s Keep the Peace Initiative, spoke with the teens about controlling their minds instead of letting their minds control them. Advising them to surround themselves with good i and learn how to settle their thoughts, Simmons led everyone in a five-minute silent meditation as the room grew quiet. Each youth got a copy of Russell Simmons’ book, Success Through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple.
Traci said she could see the kids’ self-protective instincts soften as they were invited to come on stage, show their own talents, and ask questions. The meditation was an especially powerful moment as silence fell over the rambunctious group. The message was clear, Traci said: “Incarceration is not the sum of all their parts, and with the right interventions and support, they still have an opportunity to turn their lives around. Meditation is a powerful way to empower young people, help them become more conscious of their actions, and cultivate positive change for themselves and others.”