Russell Simmons Clears the Air on Walmart

AllHipHop Staff

I want to talk a little bit about the Hip-Hop Summit. Somebody forwarded me a blog and I’m not sure if it was written by the Summit’s people, but I wanted to make a clarification. I’m on the Wal-Mart advisory board, that’s why I wasn’t there [at the Action Awards in NYC]. The advisory board is not the business board, it’s very important [to distinguish between the two].

The advisory board is where we work on issues about diversity. On that board with me is Cathy Hughes, Bob Johnson, some very prominent Asian and Latino businessmen, Alexis Herman who was the secretary of education, and Reverend Sharpton. Our job is to direct a lot of [Wal-Mart’s] spending back into the community. They’re big supporters of the Hip-Hop Summit, of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding… they support the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, and I’m trying to get them to invest in the Diamond Empowerment Fund and the Happy Arts Foundation.

I’m chairman of four of the five that I’m trying to get them to invest in, three of them they’re already there. So, me directing their charitable work is very helpful. Also me fighting or being part of the process to change their policies on diversity and to include more Blacks and even make small changes - like their minimum wage is maybe 30% higher than the minimum wage. If I could take that and make it a national issue, then that’s powerful enough to make the national issue come to light and then make that minimum wage match theirs. There’s little things you can do on that board that are community things that need my input, Reverend Sharpton’s input, Alexis Herman’s input, that’s why I’m on the board.

So when they were saying that because I was on the board is why I might have supported Hillary, I didn’t support Hillary. In the end I didn’t make any endorsements, I can tell you that behind the scenes I’ve helped all of the candidates. I’ve put them in touch with people that could be useful to them. Some of the most significant people that have come out, I’ve been behind them. My job is to register voters, not to pick candidates.

I’m gonna go on the road, and the reason I’m raising money now is I’m putting together a war chest. I’m gonna go to every city in every battleground state twice. That’s what the Hip-Hop Summit wants to do, we want a repeat performance and we think that because we have a hero that’s inspiring young voters to go to the polls, that these Hip-Hoppers will make the next president. Wal-Mart is funding a great part of our summit, and we’re trying to get them to fund more, that’s why I was not at my own event.

So I just wanted people to get clarity, I’m not on the business board, I’m on the advisory board and the advisory board is critical on issues of diversity, community empowerment and charity. [I’ve been] working with the chairman Lee Scott, as I was doing on that Monday and Tuesday at a $350 billion company, and directing their charitable gifts to places that really make a difference in our community, and the money that they pay me to be on the board I give to charity. It’s no real money anyway, it’s not worth the time I spend and there’s certainly not a payment. I don’t get paid for it, I just wanted to make that point, and I kind of resented it saying that this is why I have an opinion. I have an opinion.

I said to AllHipHop that Hillary worked with me on prison reform, and we got it done. She worked with me to bring hundreds of millions of dollars back into the education budget, we got it done. She worked with me on countless issues of poverty, so having access to her matters. But in the end, it still didn’t cause me to support her. I said, “That’s a lot to give up without having a lot of dialogue” and I think maybe that when we had 80% of our Black Congress people pulling for Hillary, it was because they needed to have a discussion with Senator Obama. They needed to have more discussion, they wanted to feel comfortable.

Sometimes it takes a little bit of work to expect support when people have long standing relationships with the other candidates. You have to earn it, you have to prove that you’re gonna be acceptable to the needs of poor people and Black people. In the end, I believe that he’s a great candidate, and in the end I think that the work that we’re gonna be doing is likely to benefit him tremendously. That’s what we wanna do. Although I didn’t go out and endorse anyone, I’m still open but it does affect the way our Hip-Hop Summit is perceived if I were to go out and make an endorsement. That’s my problem.

I spoke yesterday to Rosario Dawson and let her know that it would be good if she got young Latinos to vote more in Texas. That would help the outcome of the election. She’s worried about her status as a nonpartisan organization that’s registered, but she acknowledged that almost all of the people who support her in her efforts to register voting and the people that she inspires to vote are Obama supporters. It doesn’t mean that she would go out and endorse him, because her job is to get them out, and it’s a lot more important that she get them out than that she endorses. So we have the exact same issue, Rosario Dawson and I. She has the Latino Vote Initiative that she’s done a lot of good work on, Voto Latino.

I was like, “How can they make a judgment?” I wasn’t really angry about it but [the comment] said, “I’m not judging but he’s on the board of Wal-Mart” like it was some selfish thing that I was doing, it was a community thing and I was advised by everyone. Every liberal, everybody said, “Why would you get on the board?” I said, “Because we can help people” and just because you’re up under the union’s a**es, there’s two sides.

Four dollars for medicine is important. [Wal-mart’s] got a card that’s competitive with my [Rush] card. That’s not helpful to me. They’re big and they have resources - they lower the price of a lot of products, and sometimes it makes companies go out of business because they can’t compete. But in the end if they’re employing enough of our people on a senior level, it’s a business where we need to have some say-so. So being on the board is helpful.