The Godfather of Hip-Hop has one word for spreading the peace at Hillhouse High School: Om.
Music mogul Russell Simmons is bringing the practice that accompanies that word—transcendental meditation—to New Haven’s second-biggest high school.
The celebrity producer and entrepreneur announced during a visit to the city Tuesday that he’s paying to have Hillhouse’s teachers learn TM so they can in turn teach it to the school’s students. The idea is to have everyone chill out and meditate twice a day, once the program gets under way.
That was but one highlight of a whirlwind day in which the celebrity inspired an auditorium full of 800 people at Hillhouse, then appeared at a $200 to $500-a-ticket fundraiser for the NAACP held at Rodrick Gilchrist Fashion House.
The NAACP, R.J. Julia Booksellers, NewAlliance Bank, and the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven sponsored the visit.
Simmons was the picture of what one has come to expect: humble, calm, wearing a light colored sweater over a white-collar shirt, jeans with gleaming white sneakers, the obligatory Yankees baseball cap, and a high-end Maybach vehicle, complete with driver.
Simmons, considered the godfather of Hip-Hop music, whose brand has expanded to clothing, stage performance, jewelry and finance, is known to the younger generation as “Uncle Rush.” He makes appearances on MTV’s “Run’s House,” a reality show revolving around the family life of his brother, Joseph Simmons, the “Run” in rap duo Run-DMC. He is the ex-husband of former model, entrepreneur and reality-show star Kimora Lee, and he’s the reality star of his own show.
What one probably didn’t expect: Simmons is a vegan who also wants to spread TM—and a non-materialistic, spiritual mission in general—to young people in cities.
Simmons came to New Haven to promote his new book, “Super Rich.” The title refers not to gaining material wealth, but to achieving “spiritual wealth.”
Electrified students in Hillhouse’s auditorium received autographed copies of the book and listened intently as Principal Kermit Carolina interviewed Simmons on the stage. After a color guard presentation of the flag, with the national anthem played on the saxophone by Corey Staggers, a video greeting to Simmons from the Hillhouse students, a poetry reading by Aoysia Jean of a Def Poetry Jam piece, and a violin piece from Justin Green, the conversation began.
Simmons and Carolina discussed the definition of success, the running of Simmons’ five charities, why he’s vegan (“Man being given domain over animals doesn’t mean we have animals birthed, only to overfeed them and then use them for our needs”), the new book, and the value of taking a break during the day to meditate.
Simmons told the students that “sitting quiet” for a couple of times during the day will bring them better, positive thoughts. If they sit and listen to their thoughts, he said, they can watch their thoughts and see what’s positive and what’s negative.
He then went on to talk about another music mogul, Sean “Diddy” Combs. “When I was in a meeting with [record company owner] Andre Harrell, this kid did everything possible to make sure I had everything I needed. I didn’t even ask him for the cup of coffee. He just appeared and put in my hands; he anticipated my needs. He worked his butt off. He was a servant—a nd now, he’s a president of a company. He has a servant’s heart.”
Simmons told the students he wants them to become “great givers and good getters.” He also said he wants the students to be “awake.”
Toward that end, he announced his decision to pay for training for members of the Hillhouse staff to train in a program that helps students use transcendental meditation to alleviate stress. The program was founded by the David Lynch Foundation. It has been used in a high school in Washington, D.C.
Hillhouse students Dante Britto (foreground in photo) and Joseph Sebastian said they liked Simmons’ message. “The majority of his message was hard work pays off,” Britto said.
Senior Jason Burgo said he learned al lot “about passion, about being conscious, about being aware of yourself and your environments. Doing what you have to do to be successful … I’m taking that to heart.”
Sophomore Sherell Nesbith wants to become a nurse. She said what Simmons said had an impact on her because “I don’t want to go out and have a problem with anybody out there, and I want them to understand where I’m coming from. The money issue, what he was talking about, I don’t see people out there giving money to younger people that need it.”
Nesbith said she knows people close to her who got involved in the drug life and went to jail. “So I basically understand what he was talking about. It shows me that, that’s not my path, that I should follow in my own footsteps.”
Later in the day, at the NAACP reception at Rodrick Gilchrist Fashion House at Whalley and Blake in Westville Village, those who paid $200 got an autographed copy of “Super Rich.”
Those who paid $500 got to “meet and greet” with Simmons and take a picture with him.
How can someone with alot of money pay just to implement something like this in a school? So,if I had alot of money, I can pay to have a program for kids to pray everyday in schools? It’s crazy what money can do.
posted by: robn on March 16, 2011 8:20am
Being a multi-multi-millionaire can lend itself toward ones meditative state.
I somehow figured that rascal David Lynch was wrapped up in this. Whats next… quinoa on the lunch menu?
posted by: ignoranceisbliss on March 16, 2011 8:24am
And why is the Community Foundation sponsoring this? R. J. Julia I get-they sell books presumably his. But what community function is served by this self/quasi-religious promotion?
posted by: r on March 16, 2011 8:30am
I say bring the $, bring the celebs, bring a message - this community needs inspiration, attention and hope.
posted by: To the haters on March 16, 2011 9:24am
Don’t hate the player….. Well you know the rest.
Nice to know a positive message was sent to our inner city youth. They need to hear it from the horses mouth. Not the horses, well you know. At least they can identify with him. Being that he is black, from the hood, and made it out the hood with enough money to give back to boot. Not just some liberal program. It is a very powerful message when someone that looks like you tells it. Students are hearing it from too many people who don’t, so they don’t buy it. If you look like me and have had a similar experience to mine, I am more than likely to believe you. As far as taking time out to chill a couple times a day. I wonder how much different it is going to be than yoga. They are allowing that in the schools and you have to be “trained” to teach it. Considering the drop out rates of our inner city youth, we will take what we can get, thank you very much.
posted by: ajames on March 16, 2011 10:24am
Well done Russell. It’s not well known but Transcendental Meditation has proven to be uniquely successful in improving graduation rates so it’s a great addition to the daily routine of students.
posted by: andrew garrow on March 16, 2011 10:24am
There was no message sent. A message would have been to feature an africian american who worked hard, put himself through college and became a local Store owner or accountant who became successful because he kept his tenacity, worked hard and didn’t look for shortcuts. A message would have been a young hispanic woman from Fair Have who worked two jobs to put her through nursing school, and now owns a house and loves her family.
posted by: notty on March 16, 2011 10:24am
How can people on this blog be so negative, when the man is trying to encourage positive behavior in OUR communities. We have lost way to many lives because someone didnt take out the time to consider the consequences before their actions. Although i am not one for transcendental meditation and would rather see the school add Conflict resolution and Mediation as a part of the curriculum i am willing to support whatever ideas will save a life, and put our young people on a track to success.
posted by: To the haters on March 16, 2011 11:16am
Ok, so I get it. Inner city youth (Blacks and Latinos” Have to go through something to be something. Hmmmm, how does that translate to the suburban youth??? Your family has money (is this a short cut) so life is going to be easier for you than inner city youth so that means when you all grown up and successful you should not be proud of how you got there because you did not go through a struggle in the hood. Whatever, the fact that Russell showed up and spoke was a positive message. But you don’t know anything about that because as far as you’re concerned he did not struggle enough for it. As previously stated “we will take what we can get.” The last time I checked you have to work to obtain a life style like Russell’s has. No one handed anything to him, he worked for it. Just like no one is going to hand inner city youth anything. They have to work for it. They can work as hard as Russell or they can struggle as you suggest. Russell’s proof you need to work hard in school,go to, complete college, and do the damn thing and not sit around waiting for the some other person’s approval. By the way, Russell did manage to go to and complete City College of New York. Not an Ivy League, but he was able to learn a few business skills while there. There are many success stories like the one you stated, I happen to be one of them. But I will tell you one thing. I don’t want my kids to have to endure what I did. The parent’s of many of our inner city youth are working hard to help create a better life for their children. For the youth who can seem to get it together, for whatever reason, stop the excuses and make your own way. Use your brain and be like Russell, Diddy, General Powell, Condoleezza Rice, or what the Hell the President. I wonder if these folks took shortcuts.
posted by: Rodney on March 16, 2011 11:26am
It seems that the TM has helped a lot of inner city kids in several schools around the USA. My understanding is that its a voluntary program and the parents have to give permission. So if the kids and the parents want it and its helping to reduce the violence and get the kids an education, why would we stand in the way of that?
posted by: davec on March 16, 2011 11:26am
If TM can contribute to just ONE gun being taken off our streets then it is worth a try.
posted by: anon on March 16, 2011 12:27pm
Thanks Mr. Garrow: Thanks for being the final arbiter on what constitutes a message to African American children. Also, thanks for your careful illustration on who best to deliver such a message. Ignorance is indeed bliss.
posted by: Motherof2 on March 16, 2011 12:36pm
The Community Foundation sponsored an NAACP event that brought in someone to discuss ways to positively reduce violence in New Haven. This is something that CFGNH has always done, whether it is through their grant making or sponsorship program. .......... yes, your ignorance is bliss! Duuuhhhh
posted by: andrew garrow on March 16, 2011 12:50pm
your welcome :) (yeah i know)
posted by: jahad on March 16, 2011 1:55pm
Great job Principal Kermit Carolina…our youth hear the same messages from the same people in the community. I applaud your efforts for widening the playing field…and its messengers!
posted by: GMG on March 16, 2011 2:02pm
I was unaware that New Haven BOE has reversed it’s policy on religion in school. If that is the case, then we should next bring a pastor in to teach the young people that the bible said to “Do unto others, as we would have them do unto us.” “Do what is right and good” “Thou shall not kill” etc. If everyone practiced just those three things, New Haven would be an entirely different city.
posted by: To the haters on March 16, 2011 2:59pm
If you took the time to read up on TM you will find that it is clearly scientific in nature. “God Forbid” no pun intended… the inner city youth should have a proven program that works to help them deal issues like, ADHD and other learning disorders, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, cardiovascular disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, and diabetes. In the suburbs they call dealing with issues like these, health care and therapy. If you not of which you write. Don’t write. Or is that not in the bible somewhere… Get over it! Our kids need help and many of the homes from which they derive are ill-equipped to deal, for one reason or another. I really don’t think it has much to do with race, if this blog were called “the trailer park independent” they might be having the same type of discussion in middle America somewhere.
posted by: Roger on March 16, 2011 3:16pm
Hey if anyone is really interested in what Russell is saying, visit the David Lynch Foundation website, http://www.davidlynchfoundation.org and see for yourself. The program he talks about has worked wonders in Detroit, Washington DC, San Francisco, and many other schools. Its completely non-religious in nature and just makes students more awake, positive, and balanced. Even Catholic schools have had programs. Schools that were failing and ready to be taken over by the Feds have done well. Much less violence, better academic performance, and better athletic results. Good message Russell.
posted by: Ex-New Havener on March 16, 2011 3:35pm
How in the world can ANYONE find something negative to say about this?! Those same people will say something negative if NOTHING was done too. By the way, meditation and yoga have NOTHING to do with religion. Do your homework.
posted by: Clarifying on behalf of To the haters on March 16, 2011 3:52pm
Ex-New Havener…the yoga was referenced because in many forms of yoga mediation is involved and like the TM, you have to be trained to teach it properly. Apologies for not being more clear. Is my homework done now??? I was just checking because you are the expert???
posted by: Ex-New Havener on March 16, 2011 4:11pm
to CLARIFYING - calm down. My comment was for the people saying that meditation and yoga is a RELIGION. I never said I was an expert on either.
posted by: not a "hater" on March 16, 2011 4:40pm
Exercise, yoga, zumba, mindfulness and secular meditation are a few healthy ways to help give students the mental break and recharge they need in the school day.
Religions and cults have no place in our schools.
Teaching TM in public schools is unconstitutional. (Malnak v. Yogi)
Shame on New Haven Public Schools for opening themselves up to a potential lawsuit. Who approved this?
We can take better care our most vulnerable citizens by giving students a more balanced and sensible school experience.
Taking care of children means protecting them from cults.
posted by: GMG on March 16, 2011 10:03pm
To “hater” What our kids need is an educational system that works on their primary mission and duty – which is to educate them. Not the contempt of those who’s perception of these young people is shaped by the narrative that says that their future is predetermined by their present condition. As for your statement “many of these kids come from homes ill-equipped to deal with problems” - the only thing a lot of these families are ill-equipped to do, is move out of New Haven, so their children can be treated to a proper education, rather than being used as guinea pigs for every new fad that presents itself. On what basis is this a “proven program” of successfully educating and stemming the tide of violence in ANY community (I just need one eg.) Also, for my edification, name one suburban school where this program is being successfully implemented. You may be comfortable masking your disdain and not so subtle racism of low expectation in ad hominem & hand wringing about how this is all about saving these poor black children who can’t do any better. But OUR KIDS are running out of time and they need serious people who see them and not their “ill-equipped homes.”
Having taught in both the city AND the suburbs, I am sure those teachers would report that their stress level would see a significant decline if that money could be spent adding more aides to provide more one-on-one in the classroom rather than this training program to teach them TM.
BTW…you can spin it however you want, but when you are asking a teacher and child to clear their minds and chant the name of a Hindu god…that is a very religious act.
The only cult I see here is the cult of TM-bashing. It’s time you got educated to TM in the 21st Century!
posted by: Nigel Barlow on March 17, 2011 3:07am
Great to see successful people using their celebrity to introduce more profound values-especially Transcendental Meditation-to the younger generation.And much needed in our UK schools ,for teachers as well as pupils,to remove stress and develop joy in learning.
posted by: 51 cent on March 17, 2011 8:34am
lets not forget to use smudge sticks in the halls of every school that fails to meet the CMT scores. maybe if that doesn’t work we’ll have the teachers handle rattlesnakes, or even better, sacrafice a chicken everytime a student drops out. TM is dogma. dogma = religion. how much money did mr. simmons recieve to be driven in a Maybach to talk to kids in our schools? That money could have been put back into the community to be given to some non super rich people.
posted by: Roger on March 17, 2011 10:22am
There are a lot folks living in the dark ages here. There is no “dogma” involved with TM. You don’t even have to believe it works for it to work. Its a simple, mechanical, mental technique. Baptist ministers practice TM. So do Catholic priests and nuns and Jewish Rabbis. They find it helps them be more calm and healthy, more alert and balanced and it does not conflict at all with their religious beliefs. TM is verified by over 600 published studies and is prescribed by doctors. The National Institutes of Health have supported TM research to the tune of $26 million.
There are plenty of schools that would take Russell Simmons up on his offer. Time for folks in New Haven to wake up. Otherwise his help will just go elsewhere. Somewhere people are more open-minded and progressive.
According to the unions, Russell Simmons is the problem because he should be paying more in taxes to help government workers stay in the “middle class” by getting outrageously high benfits! Is Russell just another greedy rich guy? Or is he somehow different?
When you tax high incomes, you also tax a great work ethic and talent.
posted by: GMG on March 17, 2011 3:51pm
To Roger The example that I asked for was a record of successfully educating and stemming the tide of violence in ANY community. But let’s look at the one you have cited. Based on 2009 CAPT result for Weaver High School where TM is being implemented (latest available) – 5% of 10th graders were at goal in math, up from 4%; 6% of 10th graders were at goal in science, down from 7; 8% of 10th graders were at goal in reading, up from 4; 15% of 10th graders were at goal in writing, down from 18. An 80-90% failure rate is not my idea of success…... I wonder??? What would Mr. Simmon’s reaction be if his company had a similar failure rate?
posted by: Louise on March 18, 2011 9:51am
Wonderful article! As an educator, someone who practices TM and a human - what Simmons is helping to foster is brilliant! I know deep in my heart that when these young adults learn and stick with TM it will be such an amazing tool for success in all areas of their lives. Best news I’ve read this week!!
posted by: Mister Jones on March 18, 2011 12:35pm
To Roger and others—TM and yoga are each religious practices for some people. They have been each been stripped of much of their religiosity as they have been mainstreamed, and many people participating in these activities do not feel they are exercising religion. But it’s still dancing pretty darn close to the line between church and state. [And the stridency of some of the arguments here remind me of the folks who complain when prayers are banned from school…] To me, as a left-wing churchgoing Christian, transcendental meditation and yoga each look like prayers to me, and I don’t want my government subsidizing them.
Remember that it’s not just how these things are intended, it’s how the messages are received, too.
posted by: Ex-Newhavener on March 18, 2011 12:54pm
I hear everyone saying they do not want religion in their schools - well you know what may be that is the problem. If my child was going to Hillhouse I would be all for any type of positive message then it may be that will keep some of these kids ALIVE! Anybody have any better ideas!! No I doubt it. These kids need something - let it be something different - who knows maybe it will work. How about letting these kids decide what they feel will work for them because obviously what is the schools now is not.