Russell Simmons Speaks at JCK Las Vegas on the Diamond Empowerment Fund
Greetings from the JCK Jewelry Show in Las Vegas. The show is one of the jewelry world's major events where manufacturers and wholesalers show their latest wares to retailers and industry professionals. The keynote speaker this morning was Russell Simmons, the hip hop impresario behind Def Jam Records and Baby Phat and now Simmons Jewelry and the Diamond Empowerment Fund. Simmons first became interested in the jewelry business a couple of years ago. He began thinking about jewelry when his then wife, Kimora decided it would be a good idea to make jewelry. His initial response was that he would never buy her fur coats or diamonds, two things he associated with hurt and damage to others.
He changed his mind after doing more research with the Clinton Initiative and other groups and taking his own trip to Africa where he met with Nelson Mandela and learned that while diamonds have caused a lot of pain and suffering they also can do good in the world. He found that in some areas people would starve without the sales of diamonds. This led to the formation of the Diamond Empowerment Fund. DEF works to promote higher education for Africans and so far has raised $9 million for a school in South Africa, the CIDA school which serves 3300 students, It is a four-year school,which is basically a college to teach students and send them back to the townships as teachers. It offers liberal arts education and business classes and the students do all the work at the school except teaching.
Simmons also took part in a question and answer session moderated by the most influential man in the world of diamonds, Martin Rappaport. Simmons, a dedicated yogi believes that we are all connected and that the more connected we are, the happier we are and that we are honor bound to give away some of what God gives us (as he puts it, "you can only sit your ass in one seat at a time." He answered questions about hip hop and branding pointing out that hip hop is the most powerful branding community. He pointed out that 80% of the people who listen to hip-hop aren't African-American, what hip hop turns away from or turns on to has a tremendous impact. He also pointed out that most popular rappers also have a charity that they support. Simmons mentioned the rappers and gold grill maker Paul Wall but seemed to dodge a question in the audience from a jeweler who expressed concern over safety and the line from the song "Grillz" featuring Wall which says "rob the jewelry store and tell 'em make me a grill." But he did say that he sees rappers as poets reflecting the spirit and energy of a time. Certainly hip hop has had plenty of things to say about the jewelry industry whether its Kanye West and Jay-Z rapping about blood diamonds or Missy Elliot referencing Jacob the Jeweler in her lyrics. Hip hop's branding power has had a big influence in keeping diamonds hip for a younger audience but the true connection between hip hop and the jewelry industry hasn't quite happened yet. The crowd of jewelers overall seemed receptive to Simmons's message so perhaps that is changing.