Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Open Letter to Young Black Hollywood: Ending Segregation by Russell Simmons

There is a story that Elijah Muhammad would often tell about a mule that was chained to a tree for many, many years. Finally, when the mule was unchained, he still didn't leave the tree's side. You may already know where I'm going with this: When I was a young record guy, I would go to Hawaii and hang with the chairmen of various media companies (mostly music). Sure, the hotel suites were a bit expensive, but there I was, hanging with some of the most exciting people in the entertainment business (many of them have now become some of my longest friendships). Even though we are talking over 30 years ago, I never got to see a sign that said "Whites Only" -- real or imagined. The fact is that good business relationships in communications businesses are mostly built outside the shared workspace. If you want to make lasting connections, you too will have to go outside of your comfort zone and make new friends.
I guess about 29 years ago -- before I could even afford it (and for the record, this place is still expensive to me!) -- I would go to St. Barth's during the holidays, because I knew that was where a lot of the record, fashion and film executives would vacation. If that was where a lot of the successful people with common interests were hanging out, I was going to crash that party -- and eventually throw the party. (The last 17 years I have thrown the best party on the island.) Many of them I got to know personally before they even knew what kind of businesses I was trying to create. In fact, I didn't always know either! Who would have thought I would meet David Rosenberg and we would build a multi-hundred-million-dollar-valued financial-services company? Many of these friendships have been some of the most rewarding relationships in my lifetime. I have so many examples of my success through honest integration that it would take a huge manuscript to go into all of them here, but I will provide a few examples: The truth is that Aerosmith didn't seek out Run-DMC; we went to them. It was a white kid from NYU, Rick Rubin, who later became the co-founder of Def Jam, who saw the potential of the Beastie Boys. I built clothing companies with Syrian Jews from Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn. I had at least 20 different licenses with 20 different families. I couldn't guess how many Shabbat dinners I had. I got so close to that community that I almost moved to Ocean Parkway. (That is a joke, kind of; Kimora was having so much fun and making so much money with Baby Phat that she actually was looking at houses there.) I then introduced these friends to Jay Z and Nelly. We went on to build, conservatively speaking, over $8 billion in business.


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