A Night of Entertainment, Celebrating Russell Simmons as a 'Voice of Courage & Conscience'

November 12, 2013

On Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, six artists and more than 400 people joined the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s Hollywood Bureau in honoring philanthropist and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons with a “Voice of Courage and Conscience” award. The award is a tribute to his work in fighting and advocating for the rights of the American Muslim community in the face of bigotry and fear-mongering.

SEE: Flickr photo album, “MPAC Honors Russell Simmons” (Flickr.com)
ALSO SEE: Facebook photo album, “MPAC Honors Russell Simmons” (Facebook.com)

A co-founder of Def Jam Recordings, which includes such iconic artists as Jay-Z, Kanye West and Nas, Simmons has also cofounded social justice organizations, such as the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU). It believes direct dialogue & collaboration between ethnic communities is the most effective path towards collectively working for social good.

A fierce advocate of religious freedom and the rights of minorities, Simmons has been a fervent supporter of the American Muslim community. Among several examples, he has publicly defended American Muslims from Rep. Peter King’s (R-NY) hearings on Islamic radicalization and leveraged his celebrity status to rally artists, interfaith leaders, elected officials and social media around his “Today I Am A Muslim, Too” campaign. 

The evening was filled with momentous performances spanning comedy, spoken word, folk and pop. Comedian Dean Obeidallah started the night with a standup routine that not only left the audience in stitches, but also emphasized the importance of using art to tell our own stories.

“MPAC brought together some of the best talent I’ve shared a stage with,” he said. “Tonight is a testament to the fact that [Simmons] doesn’t just fight for [our] community, he [fights for all minorities].”

Def Jam poet Amir Sulaiman took the stage next with a passionate monologue on the destructive nature of bigotry, hate and indifference. His powerful and emotional performance was met with a standing ovation; a testament to the moving power of creative storytelling as a form of self-expression.

Singer, songwriter Yuna followed Sulaiman with three beautiful songs celebrating love and life, including her hit song “Live Your Life.”

Following Yuna, MPAC’s President Salam Al-Marayati presented Russell Simmons with MPAC’s “Voice of Courage and Conscience” award for promoting acceptance and co-existence in the face of hate toward Islam and Muslims, and standing up for justice for all. Thereafter, Al-Marayati and Simmons took the stage for a discussion and Q&A on the responsibility and challenges in using the arts and celebrity status to influence positive social change.

“There is a simple principle, which is the idea of the rights that you take for granted yourself, aren’t safe unless you extend them out to others,” Simmons said. “If you do what’s right, you end up on your feet. Push to create a change that is necessary.”

The evening concluded with a surprise appearance by the burgeoning young pop group, AKNU. Hot off their “X Factor” performance, AKNU sang their hit cover of The Zutons' “Valerie,” made famous by Amy Winehouse. They brought the crowd to their feet, ending the evening on an extremely high, positive and energetic note.

MPAC's Hollywood Bureau serves as a bridge between the Muslim community and the entertainment industry. The Bureau is responsible for advancing Muslim American perspectives in the entertainment industry by serving as an information clearinghouse in Islam for the Hollywood community. The Bureau also works with the American Muslim community to nurture creative talent and connect aspiring Muslim filmmakers, writers and actors with Hollywood professionals.

Please join us on Saturday, December 14th for MPAC’s 13th Annual Convention, celebrating “25 Years on a Road Less Traveled.”



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