Is Hip-Hop’s Political Activism Falling on Def Ears?

Russell Simmons Considered to Lead NAACP

Last month, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) president Kweisi Mfume announced his resignation. While no one has been tapped to lead the oldest civil right organization in our nation’s history full-time yet, the wide open nature of the search to replace Mfume has led to rampant speculation.

Considering the criticism the organization came under during the most recent presidential election, including charges that it had outlived it usefulness and was now more of a political apparatus than an organization interested in civil rights, some have called for the organization to make a bold move and hire a high profile leader.

“We are basically 2,200 local organizations with a national title,” Whyatt Mondesire, head of the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP told the NewsMax wire service. “The organization needs a heavyweight with a national reputation who can raise money, who has a vision and who has the connections to push us forward with a modern civil rights agenda.”

With those concerns, as well as the increasing political awareness of the hip-hop community, in mind, some have suggested that the post be given to none other than hip-hop and fashion mogul Russell Simmons. The belief is that Simmons, as former president of one of the largest hip-hop labels, would help the organization reconnect with black youth in a way that it can be argued has not happened since the 1960s.

While Simmons is certainly no stranger to politics – he founded the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, which brings together entertainers and politicians to discuss issues of relevance to black youth – his name being in the hat for NAACP President has been greeted with mixed emotions, even from black college students, who reside firmly in the age group conventional wisdom says Simmons would attract.

Some, like Rita Williams, a senior criminal justice major at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Fla., said they would love to see someone like Simmons at the helm of the NAACP.

“I’d be happy for him to be the president,” Williams said. “He’s not only smart, but he has common sense and that’s what it takes.”

Williams is not alone in that assessment. Others, like Crystal Evans, a senior biology major at Georgia State University, in Atlanta, Ga., shared her sentiments.

“Russell Simmons is a very intelligent man and entrepreneur,” she said. “From listening to him speak about rap music and other issues of the world and understanding his values I think he would be a great candidate.”

Of course, as is usually the case in politics, everyone does not share the excitement. Some, like Bianca Johnson, a junior business management major from Florida A&M, said that they had reservations.

 “I think he’s more than capable of running the institution in a business aspect but I’m not too sure if he’s the right one to lead the organization as far as the legacy of what it stands for,” Johnson said. “The president of the NAACP is more like the black president of the United States and I wouldn’t elect Russell Simmons to be that. The leader should be more than just a business person; he should be a person that has gone above and beyond the call of duty in all arenas.”

Evans said that the shock of Simmons’ name being considered was a natural reaction, not an indictment on the hip-hop community. She compared this reaction to people’s first reaction to the news that Arnold Schwarzenegger was running for governor of the state of California.

“I guess it’s because they don’t fit in the norm of what we’ve seen as a president or a governor or whatever the case may be,” she said. “But who knows? We might need some change because the norm is not working for this country anymore.”

Some students said that they were so surprised about the buzz around Simmons that they were not sure if he would be good for the job or not yet. For instance, Stacy Anderson, a sophomore print journalism major at Howard University in Washington, D.C., said that in this case, she understands the passionate reaction on both sides.

“It has its positives and negatives,” she said. “He could influence a lot of young people since he has such great hip hop ties, but on the other hand, will other leaders respect him like [they did] Mfume?”

Although Simmons has really been the only name tossed around thus far, and reaction has been mixed, several students said they were knew what the organization should look for.

 “It should be someone who has a political and leadership knowledge or experience,” Anderson said.