QUEENS — Rapper LL Cool J and hip hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons returned to the South Jamaica neighborhood where they grew up to announce the expansion of a local anti-violence initiative.
The two stars appeared at the Baisley Park Houses on Thursday afternoon to announce that Simmons' RushCard, which offers prepaid debit cards, will donate $40,000 to activist Erica Ford's LIFE (Love Ignites Freedom through Education) Camp, a South Jamaica-based anti-violence program. Simmons himself will donate another $60,000 to the camp.
While crime in the area decreased in the last few years, the neighborhood is still plagued by street gangs and illegal guns, police said.
“There will always be some violence,” Simmons said. “But it’s about making good conscious choices on how best to serve the community and that’s what makes a difference.”
Simmons said LIFE Camp will be one of five organizations around the country funded by RushCard that have developed successful models to reduce youth violence.
LIFE Camp offers anger-management classes and also goes to crime scenes and tries to convince gang members not to retaliate against each other.
“Erica saves lives on a regular basis,” Simmons told dozens of residents who showed up at the event.
LIFE Camp, Simmons said, will now collaborate with the Peacekeepers, an Ohio-based organization that works around the country to organize men to patrol their neighborhoods to prevent gun violence.
Ford said the Peacekeepers will train 100 men in the area “to protect and patrol the community.”
LL Cool J offered words of encouragement to local youth. “If I could do what I’ve done in my life, anybody can do anything because I’m no different from you.”
The rapper, who grew up in nearby St. Albans, also said he was very touched to return to the area.
"No matter how successful you are … ultimately you got to remember your roots,” he said. “The deeper the roots, the taller the tree grows."