Simmons, RushCard Fund Program to keep the peace between police and the Black community

Russell Simmons is as afraid of a confrontation with police as most other Black men.

However, despite a recent incident in which he was pulled over by cops in the Hamptons, the RushCard co-founder and music mogul is most concerned about the relationship between African-Americans and law enforcement.

“I have a healthy fear [of being pulled over],” said Simmons who was a keynote speaker at a convention of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) in the nation’s capital on Tuesday, July 19.

“The other day I was pulled over in the Hamptons and I was scared. I was really scared,” he said.

“There was a rabbi behind me and [the officer] told the rabbi, ‘You go ahead and keep it moving.’ I told the rabbi to stay right here. I didn’t think they were going to abuse me, but I was scared.”

Simmons remarks came after recent tragic events involving police officers and young Black men in Baton Rouge, La., Falcon Heights, Minn., and Dallas, Texas.

At the NOBLE conference, Simmons and RushCard announced the expansion of their partnership and support of The Peace Keepers, a nonprofit whose goal is to maintain peace in communities where gun violence is high and whose mission is to bridge the growing wedge between law enforcement and the African-American community.

The Peace Keepers are also partnering with NOBLE in an effort to strengthen relationships between the Black community and law enforcement. Simmons spoke of building stronger relationships between communities and the police, restoring community faith and trust in law enforcement.

He also discussed ways to reduce community deaths at the hands of law enforcement as well as methods to help eliminate violence towards police officers.

“My heart is broken for the families of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and the law enforcement officers in Dallas who senselessly lost their lives,” Simmons said.

“While I am saddened and outraged, I realize that throwing my hands up in frustration won’t accomplish anything,” he said.

Simmons continued: “RushCard is prepared to help finance The Peace Keepers and the valuable work [The Peace Keepers founder] Captain Dennis Muhammad is doing in communities throughout the country. I also look forward to partnering with NOBLE to bring law enforcement to the table to build bridges that will ultimately save lives.”

Muhammad, who also attended the NOBLE conference, said men in particular and the community in general must take responsibility to help make their neighborhood a decent and safe place to live. That also means working in partnership with law enforcement, he said.

“However, due to the recent national attention of police misconduct and controversial shootings of young Black males, police and community relationship is at an all-time low,” Muhammad said. “The lack of trust and respect with the police or the ‘Them vs. Us’ is not new. It goes all the way back to the Civil Rights era where we would watch on TV police sick the attack dogs, use fire hoses, beat the marchers with night sticks, and we have also seen them use the butt of their guns. These images were seen all across America and left a bitter taste in the mouths of Black Americans across the country.”

Muhammad said that we no longer view the police as friends and helpers, we see them as foes or enemies.

“We need police, we cannot live in a lawless society. However, we must not go backward, but move forward and not give up on building a relationship of mutual respect with the law enforcement community,” said Muhammad.

Further, Simmons said he sympathizes with Black officers who have a tough job.

He said he wants to build a bridge between them and the community and between the Black officers and their White counterparts.

“We have 25 cities where The Peace Keepers are funded by RushCard,” Simmons said. “We want to work with police, not only in protecting our community, but building a bridge so the future can be different from where we are today.”

Simmons continued, “It’s obvious the Black community has had trouble with police for many more years than we’ve had iPhones. I announce that it is better today than yesterday, which is surprising to some, but Black law enforcement is sensitive to it and uniquely aware of the issues we have had for hundreds of years.

“Now, we come to this point in time, where everyone knows how bad it is, because they see it on the iPhone and with the advent of the GoPro, we have awareness and with that awareness we want to promote change and positivity.”

The biggest lament expressed by Simmons was the absence of members of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“If Black lives matter, you have to have dialogue. There was no way to get Black Lives Matter with the police on this stage together? I don’t understand that,” he said.

“In our community, we believe we need a revolution. We need a revolution in how we engage with police and vice versa, so revolutionaries create a discussion and we have to create organizations to guide you and, in some cases, give you direction.”

The Def Jam Records founder also spoke of the importance of having a special prosecutor for police involved incidents.

In New York, after legislation failed, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order mandating the use of special prosecutors in such cases. Simmons said a special prosecutor likely would have indicted the officers in the Eric Garner case.

“Having a special prosecutor is a simple give to the community,” he said. “In the Garner case, [the officer] looked guilty but the local district attorney didn’t indict. With a special prosecutor he would have been indicted and went to trial.”

While many argued that Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby should have called in a special prosecutor for her case against the officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, Simmons agreed that Mosby may have erred, but still applauded her efforts even as a judge continues to acquit the officers involved.

“She was courageous and went against the grain. The local district attorney in Staten Island could have indicted the officers in the Eric Garner case, but didn’t,” Simmons said.

“The Baltimore case wasn’t as easy as the Garner case and I applaud Mosby for trying. I know it didn’t work out and they’ll probably get rid of her now because they probably believe she betrayed [the police department].”

Simmons appearance at the conference was a reflection and extension of NOBLE’s national president’s recent role on a panel that the RushCard founder convened last month in Los Angeles to address the needs for reform in the criminal justice system, said Dwayne Crawford, the executive director of NOBLE.

Crawford added: “NOBLE looks forward to working with RushCard and Russell Simmons to build bridges and strengthen communities throughout the country.”

PHOTO CAPTION: Russell Simmons speaks at a convention of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives in Washington, D.C. (NOBLE)

They came to Kenya as refugees — and they left as Olympians

— It’s early morning in the Ngong Hills, on the edge of the Great Rift Valley, and a group of athletes huddle together in prayer in tracksuits and long pants. It’s notoriously chilly this time of year.

The runners set off from their camp, a converted orphanage, at a modest pace, hopping over puddles and dodging boda boda bikes.

Ngong is a haven for Kenyan runners, the most storied middle-distance champions on the planet, and it’s not unusual to bump into an Olympian on the dirt roads here.

But these runners are refugees. They have no flag or country. They fled war and famine — overcoming enormous odds to be contenders for the world’s biggest stage at the Rio Olympics.

An extraordinary experiment

“When they came here first we went out training with the elite athletes at the stadium and they started laughing at them and said, ‘coach, what are you doing with these people?’ That was very discouraging,” says John Anzrah, the refugees’ coach.

Anzrah competed for Kenya in the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 and World Championships. He knows something about the pressure of high-level competition.

He was given eight months to turn raw talent from refugee camps into contenders. It normally takes up to five years, he says.

“As a coach, this has been my biggest challenge. If I succeed with this, then I don’t think that anything is impossible,” he says.

The runners are part of an extraordinary experiment.

Since the first modern Olympics in 1896 in Athens, the event has always highlighted competition of nation states. But in Rio, for the first time ever, a refugee team will be competing, representing all of those around the globe who have no nation.

Come August 5, the team will enter the Maracanã stadium in the parade of nations holding the five-ring Olympic flag as their standard.

Running for a dream

Rose Nathike has been running her whole life.

She has a distinctive running style, her fists unclenched, slicing the air with her hands. It’s not the lithe stride of some east African middle-distance runners. Nathike is compact and powerful, grimacing as she churns by on the dirt murram track.

“All I want is good form running. Start on that side and do six hundred then two by three hundred. I’m not timing you, just good form,” Coach Anzrah tells Nathike, his arms and legs mimicking a sprint.

Her event is the 800 meters, which is just short of half a mile. It calls for a combination of speed and endurance. And the training is notoriously difficult.

But not for Nathike.

“Life was so much hard compared to training in this place. The life in Kakuma camp was so hard,” she says.

Thirteen years ago, she ran from soldiers in Chukudum, South Sudan. First she fled her village on foot with her family and then squashed in the back of a truck. The South was still ensnared in a brutal civil war with Khartoum. More than two million civilians died in the decades-long conflict.

But Nathike made it out alive to Kakuma refugee camp, on the fringes of northwest Kenya.

Learning to run in a refugee camp

Viewed from above, Kakuma looks like an orderly town with neat rows of mud or brick houses and gleaming tin roofs.

But like all refugee camps, it is a mirage. The people living here, mostly from South Sudan, depend on food handouts. They can’t travel without a permit and the resettlement process is slow.

“Life in Kakuma refugee camp is very hard because we are facing a lot of challenges. Sometimes there is violence. Maybe sometimes you can be mistreated. Maybe sometimes people can abuse you,” says Nathike.

But Kakuma is where she first learned to run.

“Rose always loved to run,” says Nathike’s brother Tom. “She used to run to that hill near us every morning and then come back and rest. Then, in the evening, she would run again.”

With Nathike now away at training, eighteen-year-old Tom takes care of their three other siblings, who are between the ages of ten and fifteen. Their father is a soldier, somewhere in South Sudan.

“It is really hard taking care of ourselves, but there is nothing we can do, I am the eldest now,” he says.

Arriving divided — and leaving united

The International Olympic Committee and the Tegla Loroupe Foundation held a series of trials for refugees in the camp to whittle down potential contenders.

“We drove around with a speaker on top of a car,” says Elvis Okiya, who works for the Lutheran World Foundation. “We have so many refugees who want to do sports, and it gave them hope.”

They held 400, 800, 5,000 and 10,000-meter races inside the dusty camp. Rose Nathike entered the 5,000 and won. Soon she would be on her way to Ngong.

Their training camp is at the top of a muddy track flanked by a boarding school and smallholdings.

The refugees arrived divided, but very soon that changed.

“When they first came here they kept within their own groups. I had to take a Dinka athlete and make them sleep in the same dorm room as a Nuer athlete,” says Coach Anzrah, naming ethnic groups from South Sudan that recently fought a brutal civil war.

They trained together, did chores together and took turn leading the training runs every morning.

“We have come together as a team. We have come together through training. Sport can bring peace,” says Nathike.

Many of the athletes had no shoes or sports gear when they arrived. Most had never left their refugee camps. And few knew anything about running.

“One of the runners took out his spiked track shoes for a cross-country run,” recalls Anzrah. They were football players or sports enthusiasts — undiscovered raw talent, whereas Kenyan high school athletes join elite coaching programs already polished and practiced.

“If these young athletes lived in their respective countries and they had peace and proper training, maybe their talent could win a gold medal in Rio. Maybe it is talent that has gone to waste because of war,” says Anzrah.

From refugees to Olympians

Forty-three refugee athletes from around the globe contended for a spot on the Refugee Olympic Team, including swimmers and judo players, marathoners and sprinters.

In Ngong, the athletes gather in a hall in early June, sitting on wooden benches and chairs.

For the athletes who make it, it will be a life-changing event. They will go to Rio like any other team, stay in the Olympic village, and compete in front of thousands in the stands, and millions around the globe.

And the significance is not lost on the athletes.

“It will be the first time for refugees to be there,” says Rose Nathike as she waits to find out if she has made the team. “Because people do undermine refugees as if they are not human beings like them. But now I can see maybe, refugees can also discover their talents and seem like other people.”

The live stream to Geneva, Switzerland, where the team is being officially announced, is chopping in and out, so the camp manager holds up a sheet of paper and reads out the names.

Nathike sits in her chair and smiles broadly as her name is read out. She’s made it — she’s one of ten refugee athletes heading to Rio.

They trained for months together, pushed past their traumas and their differences together, and now they celebrate together, jumping, slapping hands and dancing. Labeled their whole lives as “refugees,” they’ve now been given the chance to be champions.

“Refugees can do anything, just like anybody else,” says Nathike.