Below is a transcript of a letter Russell Simmons wrote in response to comments Don Lemon made regarding what black youth can do to change the quality of their experience in America. The video of Lemon’s earlier comments is also embedded below.
I got a chance to see what you said over the weekend about black America. At first I thought it was Fox News, but then I remembered you’re a CNN dude. I have nothing against Fox News, as Roger Ailes is my man, but the gospel you were preaching sounded like O’Reilly and Hannity were pulling your strings. Thank goodness my political director, Michael Skolnik, was on the show to stand up for African-Americans, because conservatives love when we blame ourselves for the conditions that have destroyed the fabric of the black community. I respect your courage on many other issues, but I can’t accept that you would single out black teenagers as the cause of their own demise because they don’t speak the King’s English or wear belts around their waistbands.
Hip-hop language and clothing styles are expressions of frustration with the status quo. Young people sagging their pants today is no different than young people rockin’ afros, dashikis or platform shoes in the ’60s and ’70s. And many of those rebellious youth grew up to be quite successful… bell bottom-wearing, pot-smoking, Barry Obama became the President of these United States of America and a long-hair, anti-war activist named John Kerry became Secretary of State defending our country in more creative ways than just using violence. They were knee-deep in a rebellious culture, and did anything but integrate into a world that they saw is filled with problems that needed fixing, filled with challenges, or in their mind, with problems that they could fix. And now they are fixing them.
When this country closes 50 schools in black communities and continues to build more prisons, I know that young people see through the institutionalized bullshit that is laid out in front of them every single day of their lives. The lucky ones, like you and me, owe a real explanation of the problems in our community to the ones who are still living in struggle, not some old, conservative talking points left in the garbage from Mitt Romney’s campaign. I understand personal responsibility far too well, but you can’t ask them to pull up their pants and then stand idle as they fear getting shot in the heart by wannabe cops while walking home to watch basketball games.
If you want to tell the rest of America this weekend when you go back on CNN how we fix black America, tell them to re-start the “War on Poverty.” Tell them to end the failed “War on Drugs” that has cost this nation over one trillion dollars and unjustly incarcerated a generation of black men. Tell them to support the President’s plan for universal Pre-K, so no child enters elementary school having to play catch up with the other children who are fortunate enough to go to pre-school. Tell them make college affordable and obtainable for young students who come from low-income families. Tell them that the right to a healthy life should be universal and not just for the fortunate few. And lastly, tell them that young black men and women don’t just need “role models” or “mentors,” they need “sponsors” who are willing to offer them a job.
I want the black kids to grow up and be like you. I want them to know that their imagination is god inside of them and I want all kids, but especially black kids, to have the freedom to dream as well to create their own language. After all, without their jazz, blues, rock n’ roll and now their hip-hop, America wouldn’t even have a language of its own, much less a culture.”