March 18, 2013

Russell Simmons Hosts the 2013 Young Leadership Benefit for The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding

On Monday night, Russell Simmons and Rabbi Marc Schneier hosted the Young Leadership Benefit for the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding at Simmons's New York home. The Chairman of the benefit, Ali Naqvi, organized the event, which honored minority entrepreneurs, including Sharis Shiribabadi, Paramdeep Singh, Ben Bronfman, and Sal Strazzullo. Other notable attendees included Q-Tip, Jay Sean, Ndaba Mandela, Dustin Yellin, and Kiera Chaplin.

The evening's message was one of equality and mutual support. Simmons emphasized in his opening remarks, "Rights that we take for granted are no good unless we give those same rights to others." What does he most want people to know about the organization? "We promote tolerance. Tolerance and love." Former CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien stated the importance of the youth focus succinctly: "Older people give us wisdom, but younger people give us fresh eyes."

Bronfman noted a single condition of his recognition. "Russell said something really profound to me. He said, ‘We're going to honor you, and there's going to be a lot of people there, but can you make sure your sisters come?'" Hannah and Vanessa Bronfman, standing near the podium with their mother, Sherry, smiled and waved to their brother at the mention.

Pakistani-American rapper Lazarus closed the program with a rap, which touched on intolerance he witnessed growing up Detroit. "It's an absolute pleasure to be invited to Russell Simmons' house to perform," he said later. "I like what they are doing with the Foundation. People of all cultures, all races belong to the same human family, and I'm using hip-hip as a vessel to communicate that message." Lazarus broke into additional freestyle verses afterwards, surprising Simmons. "I kind of threw him for a loop," admitted the self-described doctor-slash-rapper (according to his Twitter, he is at "the hospital by day, the studio by night").

Guests lingered after the presentation for drinks and vegan desserts, tempted as much by indoor amenities as they were deterred by the snowstorm outside: dreading the journey home, yet eager for homely comfort. As honoree and lawyer Strazzullo pointed out, "Everyone is wearing fancy dresses and tuxedos. But, at the end of the day, everyone wears sweats and tee-shirts," he said. "That is what this foundation wants to do —just for us to know each other, as people." -Rachel Small

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