Russell Simmons left his mark on the hip-hop world when he co-founded Def Jam Records, but now the influencer and entrepreneur is leaving behind a legacy as a powerful organizer and activist.
On Sunday, Simmons will be on-the-ground in Times Square in New York City between noon and 4 p.m. for the "Today, I Am A Muslim Too" rally to protest President Donald Trump's anti-Muslim policies. The rally is in partnership with Jamaica Muslim Center's Imam Shamsi Ali, America Rabbi Marc Schneider and on behalf of the nonprofit organization Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. Simmons serves as chairman of FEEU. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Muslim activist Linda Sarsour are expected to attend.
"I am a member of all of the spiritual communities," Simmons said in a phone interview. "I feel that I am a Muslim today if you need me to be. I am a Jew today if you need me to be. I am a Christian today if you need me to be. It just seems to me that I should protect my brother because I am my brother."
Simmons said the rally isn't just to stand up for Muslims and resist Trump; the mogul said he wants Trump supporters, and other Americans, to see the rally as an "operation based in love and community."
"We are part of a moment when Muslims are such great victims and at the same time they are being demonized," he said. "It's a very un-American thing — that they should all feel inspired to change. It's just — it's our job."
Simmons said he has asked other celebrities and artists to join him at the rally and to show their support on social media. Q-Tip, a member of A Tribe Called Quest, who is Muslim, is expected to be in attendance.
At the 2017 Grammy Awards, A Tribe Called Quest performed their hit track "We The People" along with Anderson .Paak, Consequence and Busta Rhymes. Rhymes called Trump "President Agent Orange" and condemned the Muslim travel ban. The rap group then brought a diverse group onto the stage to surround them as they closed out their performance.
Simmons started organizing rallies to protest Islamophobia in 2011 because he believed people living in the United States needed to be educated on Islam and their Muslim neighbors. It's the love and principles taught by fellow Muslim colleagues and friends that inspired him to engage in activism against Islamophobia.
Simmons said his relationship with people from diverse faith backgrounds prompted his interfaith efforts, one of which included organizing a meeting with prominent religious leaders Marc Schneier, Elie Wiesel, Alan Steinberg, Israel Singer, Cornel West, Morgan Jackson, Martin Luther King III and Louis Farrakhan at his house. Simmons said Schneier was the only member of the Jewish faith that came to the meeting — and since then, they've collaborated to stand against anti-semitism and Islamophobia.
"I hope that we give out a message of love," Simmons said. "For those that don't understand or are not educated in the way that we are about this issue: Come around — join us in this collective."