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Blogging JCK: Russell Simmons Delivers JCK Keynote

May 30, 2008 4:21 PM   By Leah Granof
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RAPAPORT... Russell Simmons, the highly successful entrepreneur, hip hop mogul and founder of record label Def Jam Recordings, kicked off the JCK show with a keynote address followed by a question and answer session moderated by our own Martin Rapaport. In a packed room with pulsating background music, Simmons, who is also the founder of Simmons Jewelry Co. spoke about his personal evolution from thinking that diamonds and fur were harmful and wasteful luxuries to realizing that “through a transparent diamond you see an empowered Africa.” His source of inspiration: Nelson Mandela, who convinced him on a trip to South Africa that “diamonds unlike fur---are dramatically different and can have a great effect on Africa.”

Armed with this knowledge and his highly spiritual beliefs in the importance of giving back to society what one takes from it, Simmons created the nonprofit Diamond Empowerment Fund (DEF) in 2007 which handles the proceeds from Simmons’ newly launched Green Bracelet. Composed of malachite and a single rough diamond, the bracelet retails for $125 ($70 wholesale) and profits nearing $20 per bracelet are donated to Simmons’ signature project in Africa—the Johannesburg CIDA school which gives impoverished students a four year liberal arts college level education. Since its official launch in the fall of 2007, 25,000 bracelets have sold raising close to $400,000 for a school that supports 3300 students and needs a $35 million endowment to keep it running.

Surprisingly spiritual, open, funny and authentic, Simmons fully acknowledged that he was still “green” to the jewelry industry and that he could always do more with charity. He encouraged the industry members to donate what they could and left us with this thought—“The industry needs self-reflection, I need self-reflection. Why do we give? We give because we are all selfish. When we give, we feel better.”

So far DTC’s Varda Shine and former Botswanan president, Festus Mogae have joined the DEF board.
Tags: DTC, JCK, Jewelry, South Africa
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