updated 10/20/2004 10:51:01 AM ET 2004-10-20T14:51:01

Guest: Thomas Hamill, Kellie Hamill, Sean “P Diddy” Combs


DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST:  Escape from Iraq.  Who can forget this haunting image?




HAMILL:  Thomas.


NORVILLE:  Thomas Hamill never will.  He‘s the Mississippi farmer who left hard times at home to work in one of the world‘s most dangerous places and ended up in the hands of the enemy.  But Thomas was among the lucky few.  He got out alive.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We knew you were coming home (UNINTELLIGIBLE)


NORVILLE:  Tonight Thomas Hamill and his wife, Kellie, recall his harrowing journey from war hostage to local hero.


And God bless...

NORVILLE:  Political rap.  He‘s an actor.


SEAN “P DIDDY” COMBS, HIP-HOP MOGUL:  Just tell me what you want to be, and you‘ll be it.


NORVILLE:  He‘s a fashion mogul.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The audience is on their feet here.


NORVILLE:  And as the king of hip-hop, P Diddy reigns over one of the most powerful cultural forces in the world.


COMBS:  Some people call me America‘s dream.  Most people look at me as America‘s worst nightmare.


NORVILLE:  Now he‘s using his cultural clout to help change the political process for a new generation.


COMBS:  I‘m here representing the young people of America.

NORVILLE:  Tonight P Diddy campaigns to get out the vote.


COMBS:  Vote or die, baby.


ANNOUNCER:  From MSNBC world headquarters, Deborah Norville.

NORVILLE:  And good evening.  It appears no one is safe in Iraq.  The director of CARE International‘s operation in Iraq, Margaret Hassan (ph), was taken hostage in Baghdad today.  Hassan was born in Britain but has lived in Iraq for 30 years, providing humanitarian relief to children there.  She‘s married to an Iraqi and is herself an Iraqi national.  Ms.  Hassan was abducted while she was being driven to work.  Her captors have released a video of her, which was broadcast today on Al Jazeera TV.

My first guest tonight knows all too well the terror of being held captive in Iraq.  Thomas Hamill was facing increasing debts at home, so the Mississippi truck driver went to Iraq to earn a living.  He was abducted at gunpoint in April after his convoy was attacked, leaving him with a gunshot wound in his arm.  He was held hostage for more than three weeks.  But Hamill managed to escape after seeing American troops within yards of his position.  Hamill now telling his story in a new book.  It‘s called “Escape in Iraq: The Thomas Hamill Story,” and it describes the moment he was captured, how he got through each day as a hostage, and about the moment when he escaped to freedom.

And joining me now is Thomas Hamill.  It‘s so nice to meet you.


NORVILLE:  When you hear about yet another person who‘s in Iraq, trying to do good, being kidnapped, as Margaret Hassan was today, what goes through your head?

HAMILL:  I‘m angry and upset.  I mean, I wish these terrorists would understand that this avenue that they‘re following is not getting them anywhere, and these are just—she‘s just an innocent woman.  And I hope that some day, they‘ll realize that we‘re not—you know, just in my situation, I knew we weren‘t going to negotiate with hostages, and that‘s the way I wanted it because the more you try to negotiate with them, the more hostages they‘re going to take.

NORVILLE:  Have you been able to make sense, since you‘ve been back, what‘s been going on in Iraq, both in terms of the hostage-taking and just the continued fighting that seems to spring up from every conceivable corner of that country?

HAMILL:  Well, you know, as I was over there in Iraq, we didn‘t get to watch a whole lot of TV.


HAMILL:  We were busy all the time.  And when I came back and was watching how the elections—the candidates were going through all this and the things that I was hearing, I‘m looking back, this is Vietnam all over again.  I said, We‘re going to defeat ourselves through the media and the people over here.  And I said, After going over there and seeing firsthand what it‘s like over there, I‘m thankful that I live in a country that‘s free.  And I‘m proud to live in this country.

And I look at—you know, in a way that—a lot of people don‘t look at it the way I look at it now.  I‘ve been over there, and I see it.  And if we can help those people—and people don‘t think that, you know, they want us there.  They don‘t think they do.  But right now, they don‘t have any idea what a democracy is.  Some of those people don‘t.  They don‘t know.  And they‘ve been taught for so long that we are so bad and to hate us, and they don‘t know any different.

NORVILLE:  Let‘s talk about your own story.  You took a job with KBR to drive a truck in some of the convoys there in Iraq because times were hard at home.

HAMILL:  Right.

NORVILLE:  The dairy business wasn‘t going as well as you wanted,and you needed the money.

HAMILL:  Right.

NORVILLE:  When you got over there and when you were on your way over there, did you have the sense that it was as dangerous as it turned out to be?

HAMILL:  It‘s war.  I mean, I knew it was dangerous.  I told my wife when I left, I said, Honey, I said, I want you to be—I‘m going to be up front with you right now.  I said, I don‘t want you to be surprised when you get a phone call one day that I‘ve been killed, I said, because I‘m going over there where they‘re fighting.  I said, I can be killed, and I want you to be aware of it.

NORVILLE:  It‘s one thing to say it, it‘s another thing to suddenly be in the convoy and realize that you all are under attack.  And in your book, you describe having sort of a sense of foreboding.  You‘re on this stretch of highway, and it was real empty, unnaturally so.  Tell me what happened as you all were attacked.

HAMILL:  Well, that‘s how it is.  You know, the traffic will be with us, running with us, and all.  You know, you watch for a lot of things, like with the gas cans on the side of the road.  There‘s anything you watch for that looks like something (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and people are trying to get out of the way.  And that‘s one thing that was happening.  The cars were exiting the highway and—but there was nothing we could do.  We‘re on this stretch of highway, and there‘s guard rails in the middle and guard rails on the outside and nowhere for us to turn around.

And this—you know, we had driven through kill zones before, and that‘s what we do.  We‘re, you know, basically a transportation company, and we—when we‘re under attack, we just drive through it.  You know, the gun support that we have, they don‘t, you know, get out and chase after the bad guys.  We drive through it, and we hope we get through it with—you know, with no one being harmed.  But you know, sometimes, it‘s...

NORVILLE:  And in your case, your truck was so disabled, you guys had to abandon ship.  And you said in the book you were 10 steps away...


NORVILLE:  ... from getting into another vehicle that was making the getaway.

HAMILL:  Right.

NORVILLE:  And they gunned it and they left you behind.

HAMILL:  Yes.  And—well, I—I mean, I didn‘t know, at that point, why—you know, why they—you know, it‘s chaotic.  I‘m not—I‘m not blaming—it‘s war.  It‘s a battle.  It‘s a battle scene.  I said, I‘m not going to blame anybody for what happened.  But I found out after I got back that there were actually 10 men in that Humvee.  They were picking up soldiers and KBR employees that had been, you know, blown out of their trucks...


HAMILL:  ... and were putting them in this Humvee.  And I said, We were still under—under fire there, and then the soldier that was driving this Humvee—here were so many people in there, and a soldier and my driver got in the truck.  I mean, normally, there‘re only going to be one or two people.  He wasn‘t looking for three.

NORVILLE:  Wow.  So they left, and there you were.


NORVILLE:  And quickly, you were picked up.

HAMILL:  Right.

NORVILLE:  And incredibly, within minutes of that, an Australian television crew came by.  And it was the first video that anyone had of you.  As that television crew was there and they asked you who you were, what was going through your head?

HAMILL:  I was extremely upset.  I didn‘t want them to be here.  I‘m looking at the scene and all these trucks are on fire, and I‘m saying, These guys don‘t need to be here filming this.  They‘re trying to get something out of this, and I‘ve got men and soldiers who probably died here today.

NORVILLE:  You felt like the media was capitalizing on your misfortune.

HAMILL:  Right.  Right.

NORVILLE:  And yet, on the other hand, when your family back in Mississippi saw it, it was—it was a Godsend.  He‘s alive.

HAMILL:  Right.

NORVILLE:  He may have been captured, but at least he survived.

HAMILL:  Right.

NORVILLE:  You then went through a period of days where you were just passed from safe house to safe house.  What gave you the strength to not give up as you were sitting in front of the flag, being asked to make a statement to the Iraqi captors?  How did you not fall apart?

HAMILL:  I don‘t know.  That‘s hard to explain, other than I—like I‘ve said in the past, I put it in God‘s hands.  I‘ve actually told my wife I‘ve probably been under more stress and discomfort over here, trying to, you know, live, working two jobs and trying to support my family than actually going over there, and I felt like God kind of groomed me for all this.  He had me ready for this situation, and he knew how I would react.

NORVILLE:  You repeated the 23rd Psalm almost hourly.

HAMILL:  That‘s right.

NORVILLE:  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death—did you think you were going to die?

HAMILL:  It—early on—earlier—I mean, I wasn‘t sure.  I mean, I put this in God‘s hands, and I don‘t know what his—you know, his outcome‘s going to be  I mean, it might have been my time and he was going to call me away.  And I—but I got myself ready for that.  I said, you know, I‘m ready, God, whatever it is.  But I‘ve got wife and I‘ve got some children at home, and my family, they‘re going to be devastated if I don‘t come home.  And I want to go home, and that‘s what I‘m going to pray for from now on.  You know how I feel.  I‘ll go either way.  It‘s all up to you.

NORVILLE:  Yes, well, God had a plan, and that was to get you back.


NORVILLE:  When we come back, Thomas Hamill will explain how he escaped his captors, and we‘ll be joined by his wife, so stay with us.



HAMILL:  I am feeling well and having few problems with my injury.  I‘d like everyone to know that I have received excellent care.  And I am looking forward to reuniting with my wife.


NORVILLE:  Was he ever!  That was Thomas Hamill take talking with reporters in Germany just a few days after he escaped from his captors in Iraq.  He‘s got a book out that tells his story.

And I‘m back now with Thomas Hamill, and we‘re joined by his wife, Kellie, who was the woman at home, praying probably non-stop.  How did you get through it, Ms. Hamill?

KELLIE HAMILL, WIFE OF FORMER HOSTAGE:  The support of the community and family and, you know, the nation.  I mean, I was getting cards and letters and phone calls from all around the world.  It was amazing, the outpour of—you know, the emotional support that we had.

NORVILLE:  It was helpful, but was there part of it that was an enormous burden, too?  I mean, unfortunately, the media, in our effort to get the story, we tend to seem like a pack of wolves coming in sometimes, and that‘s probably not the most helpful thing.

KELLIE HAMILL:  Well, you know, that‘s like we wrote in the book, you know, it‘s just on sometimes, you just wish, you know, they‘d kind of give you your space to get used to everything.  It‘s kind of hard.  You know, you‘re trying to get the bearings of what‘s really going on with you and your family.  But you know, I mean, I understood.


KELLIE HAMILL:  You know, I work in the community where—you know, with 911, so I know how it is.


KELLIE HAMILL:  You know, there‘s always the media‘s wanting a story, and we pretty much know that.

NORVILLE:  And Tom, when you were in captivity, in your book, you write in vivid detail of so many close calls you had, where you actually got out, but then you went back in...

HAMILL:  Right.

NORVILLE:  ... so that the captors wouldn‘t know because there was nowhere for you to run to.  But on that 24th day, ironically, the same day the medication they‘d given you for your wound...

HAMILL:  Right.

NORVILLE:  ... had run out, you heard some American troops.  You saw them through the little hole in the window.  And you said, That‘s it, I‘m out of here.  How did you know that you were going to be able to make it and not get shot?

HAMILL:  Well, like I said, I put it in God‘s hand.  When I escaped that day and got out, you know, I stayed out most of the day, and I‘m in the middle of the desert, and I sat there thinking what I needed to do.  And the more I thought about it, the more it kept hitting me to put myself back in that—in that room that I was in and look that door.  And God had another day picked out.  And I said—and I said, I‘m going to know that day when it comes.  And that‘s what happened that day I escaped.  They had me in a very secure place just prior to that.  My medication had ran out.  They moved me to this little, small mud hut out in the desert.  And I thought they were just going to leave me there for the night and they were getting another place ready, you know, during the day and were going to move me.  And I heard those soldiers that morning, and I got up and went over there to the door and pushed against it and saw them out there.  And they were walking on the ground, you know, front, rear, in the middle of the convoy.  And I said, God, are you trying to tell me there‘s no way that they can load up before I can run to them?  And I started out, and I said, This guard here, he was here last night and he was here this morning.  I said, If he isn‘t taken care of, when I run out of here, he‘s going to shoot me.

NORVILLE:  Well, they were waiting for you, and the convoy did take you to safety.  And it was a happy phone call that you finally were able to make for your wife.  I have to ask you, how is your financial situation?  The whole reason for going over there was to get enough money to keep the family far.  Is it better now?

HAMILL:  Well, I‘ve got—restructured some of my debt.  I sold the cattle on my farm and paid part of the debt off.  I mean, I—I wanted to go over there for the money to pay the rest of it off.  I mean, I didn‘t have to go over there just for the money.  I mean, I could have filed bankruptcy and gotten out and all that and stayed here where it was safe.

NORVILLE:  Yes, but you know, you‘re a Southerner.  You‘re not the kind of man that does that.

HAMILL:  And I...

NORVILLE:  You‘re going to pay your debt.

HAMILL:  I didn‘t have the opportunity in the past to serve my country, like I wanted to, and I felt like I was doing a service now, and I wanted to, you know, give my time for my country because I‘m so proud to live here.

NORVILLE:  Yes.  Having come back and experienced all the hoopla—many people regard you as a hero.  The people at the Air Force base in Landstuhl, Germany, were astonished at the way you had been able to hold yourself together.  They said you did everything by the book, but you weren‘t a soldier.  You weren‘t trained by the book.

HAMILL:  No.  I‘ve got the ultimate book, and I‘ve got the ultimate manual.  But like I said, I didn‘t—I hadn‘t come home with any psychological troubles.  That‘s one thing I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) God.  I said, God, I can‘t come home.  I‘ve got a wife and I‘ve got two children.  I‘ve got to be strong, as I was when I left here.

NORVILLE:  And when you came home, you came down those steps, the state troopers were there.  The whole community turned out.  You found out that, literally, Macon, Mississippi, had been told holding your family up, mowing your grass, not even letting you know.

HAMILL:  They were.

NORVILLE:  People just come in and do stuff, whether you needed it done or not.

HAMILL:  That‘s right.

NORVILLE:  How are you different?  How is your family life different, knowing the kind of support that was really there all along?

HAMILL:  Well, it‘s just amazing.  Like I said, I didn‘t want to tell the story, but the first month I was there, while I was reading through all these letters that were coming in, and I was just trying to decide what I needed to do.  And at the end of the letters, everybody would say, We want to read the book when you write it.  I didn‘t have it any mind of doing this, and that convinced me to go ahead and tell the story.

NORVILLE:  You told it awfully fast, too.  I don‘t know that anybody‘s come out of a situation like you‘ve been and had the book out as quickly as that.  That‘s got to be some sort of publishing record right there.  Why was it so important for you personally to get your story out?  Because you‘re obviously a man of great faith, and that was an important part of your story.

HAMILL:  Well, with me, I mean, I‘ve struggled for a long time.  And then we‘ve got people that are struggling today, and they‘re—and I‘ve got a philosophy.  There‘s always somebody got it a lot worse than you do.  And like I said, I worked hard, struggled to try to get ahead and worked two jobs.  And the more money I make, the more it costs me.  And I tell my wife I‘d have probably been better off just finding a job at the grocery store bagging groceries.  I‘d have probably had just as much money left over at the end of the month if I‘d have did that.

NORVILLE:  Yes.  You say in the book, too, that you did, when you were captive, have time to talk to your captors...

HAMILL:  Right.

NORVILLE:  ... the ones who could speak English.  And they asked you how often you saw your sister and your family.


NORVILLE:  And you guys compared notes.  And that was sort of a revelation for you.

HAMILL:  That‘s one thing that changed me about how these people over there are.  Actually, the good—I‘m going to call them the good people, and I think that‘s a family (UNINTELLIGIBLE)  They took me in this house and said, Hey, this guy‘s going to come in and sit down.  Entertain him.  And I couldn‘t believe when they told me about how they were so, you know, family-bonded, you know?  And like, I have a sister.  I see her every now and then, but I don‘t make to point to go see her every week, like they said they did.  And that just amazed me.

NORVILLE:  Kellie, you all are closer now?

KELLIE HAMILL:  A lot closer.

NORVILLE:  What‘s the lesson for the rest of us, who will never go to Iraq and have this kind of experience but can hear about your story?  What should we learn from you?

HAMILL:  Well, I—like I said, after I‘ve been over there and seen these children over there—I mean, that‘s what it‘s all about right now.  It‘s about these children.  Some of these people are—we may not never change them, but let‘s stay there for the children.  That‘s a whole generation changed.

NORVILLE:  Thomas Hamill, it‘s an incredible story.  Kellie Hamill, God bless all of you and your family.  Thank you so much for being with us.

HAMILL:  Thank you.

NORVILLE:  We appreciate it.

KELLIE HAMILL:  Thank you for having us.

NORVILLE:  When we come back: The election is just two weeks away now.  Vote or die?  Sounds drastic, but Sean “P Diddy” Combs says this election is that important.  That‘s why he‘s getting behind a big effort to get folks to the polling places.  He‘s my guest coming up next.


NORVILLE:  He‘s a multi-millionaire, a rapper, a CEO, a Broadway actor, a marathon runner and award-winning fashion designer.  It‘s a full plate for most people, but not for Sean “P Diddy” Combs.  After making a fortune marketing to millions of young people who buy and listen to hip-hop music, P Diddy‘s now on a mission to convince young America that it‘s not only cool to vote but a necessity.  His non-partisan, non-profit Citizen Change “Vote or Die” campaign aims to register an unprecedented number of young voters and get them out to the polls next month.

As part of NBC‘s “Making Your Vote Count” campaign, I talked with P Diddy about his work to get out the vote.


Good to see you.

SEAN “P DIDDY” COMBS, HIP-HOP MOGUL:  Good to see you, too.

NORVILLE:  How come you get involved in this?

COMBS:  You know, God has blessed me with a talent to be able to communicate and energize and synergize young men and women, and also minorities.  And I wanted to use my talent in a positive way to be able to express the importance of voting, expressing the importance of us exercising the rights that we have.  We‘re a result of the Civil Rights movement, and a lot of things that we benefit from, the freedoms we benefit from, we take for granted as a generation.  And you know, we have the lowest voting turnout, you know, 37 percent.


COMBS:  And—but we have reaped the benefits of a Civil Rights movement, of people that have died for us to have certain rights.  And one of that...

NORVILLE:  But most...


COMBS:  One of that is the right to vote.  So...

NORVILLE:  But most young kids today weren‘t around during the Civil Rights movement.

COMBS:  Yes.

NORVILLE:  So they sort of take it for granted, what a lot of people...

COMBS:  Yes, it‘s like...


COMBS:  It‘s like air.  You know what I‘m saying?  We don‘t really truly appreciate air.  You know what I‘m saying?  And to me, it‘s something that, you know, I‘ve been guilty of, but it‘s something that, you know, we have to step up and handle our responsibilities.

NORVILLE:  The name through which your voter thing is, is Vote or Die.

COMBS:  That‘s the campaign slogan.

NORVILLE:  Yes.  Yes.

COMBS:  You know, Kerry is campaigning for president.  Bush‘s is campaigning for president.  I have a campaign for the people.  And my campaign is to motivate, educate and empower the over 40 million youth and minority voters that are out there that are disenfranchised.  We call them the forgotten ones because politicians don‘t go speak to them.  They don‘t go into their husbands.  You don‘t see politicians going into the south side of Chicago or going into the battered areas of Detroit or Watts or Harlem, you know?  And you don‘t see them going speaking directly to young people, as they speak directly to senior citizens.

NORVILLE:  And in the Vote or Die campaign, you had a special that was on MTV, “Choose or Lose, Vote or Die.”

COMBS:  Yes.

NORVILLE:  And one of the things you did in the documentary is you-all went out and talked to the politicians, talked to Senator Clinton, talked to the head of the GOP.

COMBS:  If they wouldn‘t come—if they wouldn‘t come to us, we want to go to them.

NORVILLE:  You went to them.  And I want to roll a clip of that so the folks can hear when they knew they were talking to young people...

COMBS:  Yes.

NORVILLE:  ... how they talked.  It‘s pretty revealing.  Let‘s roll the clip.


COMBS:  ... talk to the people that are disenfranchised, that don‘t believe in the power of their vote.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  Every issue that you can imagine has a direct impact on how every young person watching is going to live his or her life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We are reaching out at the grass roots, trying to bring in new younger voters, especially.

REV. JESSE JACKSON, PUSH/RAINBOW COALITION:  Young people have a power that they simply, P Diddy, have not used.


NORVILLE:  Now, I‘m not the demographic you‘re going for, but I can tell you, nothing that any of those people just said is going to inspire me to vote for either one of the parties!

COMBS:  Yes.  Yes.

NORVILLE:  They don‘t know how to talk to kids!

COMBS:  Yes.  And that‘s why we came up with the campaign slogan, Vote or Die.  It‘s a wake-up call.  And it wasn‘t about the candidates.  It‘s about the responsibility that young men and women and minorities have to protect their future.  And changes are not going to be made unless we vote and we put the pressure on politicians and we exercise our power.  We have so much power.  We‘re talking about 40 million people within—in this voting pool.

NORVILLE:  But is it a life-or-death thing?

COMBS:  Yes.

NORVILLE:  You know, there have been some critics who say, Vote or Die?  I mean, come on, guys.


NORVILLE:  ... polls November 2.

COMBS:  One of the questions that came up was—to me early on was, How do we get young people out to the polls?  How do we get minorities out to the polls?   And I wanted to come up with a campaign slogan that really stressed the importance of voting and what it means to our future.  You could put a president into office, and that president can make a decision that could change your life or take your life away from you.  It‘s that serious.

NORVILLE:  You bet.

COMBS:  People are dying every day in the inner city from poverty.  People are dying because their kids can‘t get health care.  It‘s life or death.  People are dying of depression because they can‘t get an education, they can‘t make a way out of no way.  And it‘s that serious.

But most importantly, people have died for us to have the right to vote, and sometimes we just overlook that.  We have the right—other countries don‘t have this right.  And that was what I wanted to stress to young people to wake them up.  And things sometimes—drastic times call for drastic measures, and this is something that is—has been culturally impactful.  And this slogan will go down in history.  Vote or Die has woken up a sleeping giant, and that giant‘s going to hit those polls November 2, and people are not ready for the voter turnout that the youth voting pool is going to have and the minorities are going to have in a bigger—I predict in a bigger way ever in the history of elections in the United States.

NORVILLE:  And I want folks at home...

COMBS:  Except for the first—the first year.

NORVILLE:  The first...

COMBS:  I mean, the first—the first one.  That was—that was, like, you know, one of the biggest turn-outs.

NORVILLE:  I want people to see the campaign that‘s going out there. 

This is the PSA that‘s running on cable networks...

COMBS:  Yes.

NORVILLE:  ... and programs targeting this particular audience, the young people, 18 to 25.  Take a look.


COMBS:  On November 2, we‘re facing a matter of life or death.  Is it that serious?  Hell, yes, that serious.  When you vote a president into office, you‘re literally putting your life and the lives of your families in somebody else‘s hands.  Now, that‘s serious.  On November 2, vote or die.


NORVILLE:  You‘re not the only one behind the campaign.

COMBS:  Yes.


NORVILLE:  ... entertainers.

COMBS:  I have an army of youth cultural leaders, from Leonardo di Caprio to Mary J. Blige to 50 Cent to Jay-Z to Alicia Keyes to Tony Hork (ph), Yoko Ono.  The list is on and on of young people that want to get involved, young people that have true power to influence other young men and women.  And they‘re all part of this Citizen Change organization.

NORVILLE:  And somebody like 50‘s probably got a lot more currency...

COMBS:  Yes.  Yes, yes, yes.

NORVILLE:  ... with this demographic than...

COMBS:  Yes, 50...


NORVILLE:  ... you know, either John Kerry or George Bush.

COMBS:  Yes, 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Russell Simmons, myself, Leonardo, Mary J. Blige will have way more impact and speak more of the truth and connect more to young men and women than any of the candidates.  Tony Hork, you know?

NORVILLE:  But how do you take it from, yes, it‘s important to participate and you need to get out there and let your voice be heard, to, Before you go to the polls, you need to make sure you know what each man stands for?

COMBS:  And that...

NORVILLE:  The education part of it.

COMBS:  That‘s why Citizen Change is not only to just make it sexy and hot, which, you know, that was one of the things we wanted to—we wanted to do a remix of the process.  And that wasn‘t the only thing. to make it something that we can market, but it was to educate.  And through educating people, you know, then you also empower...

NORVILLE:  Are you telling them what the candidates stand for?

COMBS:  Yes.  I‘ll tell you about the process.

What we wanted to do was to go where the candidates weren‘t going.  We wanted to take over the space where young Americans live and breathe every day, MTV, BET, Radio One, Clear Channel, their radio stations, their disc jocks, the music they are listening to, the clubs they go to, the barbershops, the beauty parlors.  And we started the educational process there. 

The jocks, we forwarded them information on how you register to vote.  We took over the countdowns of the local video shows and we would cut into segments and explain to them how you go online to register, the deadlines of October 4.  We also wanted to educate them to all of the obstacles they try to put in front of you to make sure...

NORVILLE:  But what about knowing what the candidates stand for?  Once you‘re registered, you‘ve got to make a smart decision when you get in there.

COMBS:  Yes.  But that process is important. 

NORVILLE:  Right. 

COMBS:  People take for granted that people know how to register to vote. 

Young people don‘t know how to register to vote. 


COMBS:  That‘s one obstacle we had to overcome.

Then we told them to go on their Web sites and think about what their concerns were personally.  We didn‘t try to sway them either way.  Then we said, most importantly, watch the debates.  This is something that is not scripted.  We were honest.  We talk real talk at Citizen Change, that when you see these candidates out in fields, grassy fields with a bunch of just Middle American white people, it‘s not really multicultural, waving flags, that‘s not the true definition of America. 

NORVILLE:  Right. 

COMBS:  You don‘t see them being diverse and going into Harlem, going into Latin communities, going into Asian communities, and showing the diversity of America.  So you have to make sure that you go and you watch the debates and see when...


NORVILLE:  Are you pleased to see the way folks have watched the debates?  And the viewing levels have really been pretty high.

COMBS:   Yes.  Yes.  Yes. 

And it‘s giving you an advanced notice of what‘s to come during Election Day.  Young men and women are vested in this, because they‘re taking control of their responsibilities.  If the candidates aren‘t going to speak to them, they‘re going to let it be known how powerful they are this election.  And it‘s not going to change overnight. 

But just like you have the NRA or the AARP, now you‘re going to have the youth of America that politicians are going to have to speak to, just like they speak to veterans, just like they speak to senior citizens.  They are going to have to come in, have an urban agenda.  Neither one of them have an urban agenda.  The schools in the inner cities are just—they are just tragic. 

If your kid is going to a public school in the inner city, we have to pray, because you have kid in the suburbs that are going to have the tools to get the jobs.  And your kids won‘t have the tools.  And that‘s not right.  That‘s modern-day racism.

NORVILLE:  We‘ll find out on November 2 how successful


COMBS:  November 2.  You call me on the 3rd.  I won‘t really be available, though, because my birthday is the 4th



COMBS:  But we can holler at another time.

NORVILLE:  All right, we‘re going to take a short break.  We‘ll be back.  More with Sean Combs, P. Diddy, in a moment.


COMBS:  Could you imagine what Martin had to go through?  Could you imagine what Malcolm had to go through?  Stop taking your freedom for granted.  Do you know how many people have died for you to have the right to vote?  You can‘t give 15 minutes of your time?  Vote on November 2.



NORVILLE:  Sean P. Diddy Combs has had huge success with his music and clothing careers.  Now he‘s trying to have the same success in getting people to vote.

More with P. Diddy next.



COMBS:  I felt a lot of the pressure.  And I felt like fashion needed some flavor.  I felt a lot of people were taking a backseat and were going to try to be extra subdued because of what happened September 11.  And, you know, I‘m a fighter.  Americans, we are fighters.  And New York, we are fighters.  So they ain‘t going to make us change the way we dress.  We can still look good as we rebuild.


NORVILLE:  That was Sean P. Diddy Combs after the showing of his Sean Jean designer line at the 2002 Fashion Week here in New York City. 

Back now, more with P. Diddy, who‘s got a voting campaign going on. 

35 cities.  Burger King is behind it. 

COMBS:  Yes. 

NORVILLE:  And you‘ve really put, I think, the business strategy that‘s worked so well for you personally behind this voter thing. 

COMBS:  As I said in the intro, I just used the talents that I had, that I possessed already.  And that was to market to this audience that I do business with every day.

So, just like I would market a movie or a new record coming out, I wanted to utilize the talents that I gained from that and utilize that blueprint, but put an emotional passion behind it and really go into—just like if we were going into a movie tomorrow.

NORVILLE:  Right. 

COMBS:  I had a movie called movie A, I would inundate the space.  I would make sure everywhere you turned, you would see this movie, BET, MTV, your commercials, wherever young people are at, the colleges, the nightclubs. 

And that‘s what we‘re doing with this unconventional way to really promote this cause, which is young Americans getting out to vote. 

NORVILLE:  All that takes money, and you‘ve got a lot of it, because you have been really successful in business. 

You started out.  You were at Howard University majoring in business, and an internship ended up becoming your career. 

COMBS:  Yes. 


COMBS:  I still need money, though.  This is a fight.  So I‘m definitely on the fund-raising...

NORVILLE:  I‘m not passing the hat right now for you.



COMBS:  This is definitely the fund-raising—I‘m on the fund-raising hunt right now. 

But it‘s taken a lot of money.  But I‘ve had a lot of strategic partners come to my aid.

NORVILLE:  When you look at your career, what you see as having been the smartest move that you made or the best break that came your way that contributed to your success? 

COMBS:  I would say that the smartest move I‘ve ever made was to embrace who I am and where I‘m from, to embrace hip-hop music, to embrace the soul and fashion and flavor of hip-hop, and put it out there on a wide scale, to be who I am, a young black man from Harlem, to embrace who I am and be raw and be real about it and be honest and be truthful when I make mistakes, when I have successes, and never to forget where I come from. 

NORVILLE:  Did you know that there was a way to be commercially successful embracing that entity of who you are? 

COMBS:  I think that if I was—if I stayed so true to who I was and I wanted to entertain people and give positive energy and love and do it in a quality way—everything I try to do has to be in a quality way—I felt that the benefits would just come back. 

NORVILLE:  So, when they say, if your choose work you love, you‘ll never work a day in your life, it‘s kind of true? 

COMBS:  I‘m in love with what I do.  I work 20-hour days.  I‘m truly blessed.  And I‘m appreciative for where I‘m at.  I thank God every day. 

I give all glory to God for where I‘m at, because it didn‘t have to be this way.  And right now, it‘s not about money for me.  It‘s about inspiration, being an inspiration and inspiring young people all over the world.  And I don‘t gauge my value or worth monetarily.  I gauge it on that I have over 600 employees worldwide.  But, you know, I‘m from Harlem.

NORVILLE:  Does that freak you out sometimes?

COMBS:  Yes.  It definitely—it isn‘t something that I don‘t appreciate.  It‘s something that I thank my blessing for every day.

Like, I won the men‘s designer of the year award in fashion. 

NORVILLE:  You sure did, right.

COMBS:  Against Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors.

And I remember, like 10 years ago, 12 years ago, saving up my money to buy something—a Ralph Lauren suit, and how much of a hero he was to me.  But for me to beat him out to be men‘s designer of the year was just such an honor to me.  And it inspired me.  And, hopefully, it inspired a lot of young designers. 

NORVILLE:  For you, it all started when you embraced hip-hop and helped to make it the force in American music that it is now. 

I think a lot of people would be interested to realize that something like 80 percent of the people who buy hip-hop music are white kids. 

COMBS:  Yes.

NORVILLE:  Explain that. 

COMBS:  I think that the messages in hip-hop—I mean, the messages that are in hip-hop, people don‘t realize, it doesn‘t matter what neighborhood you‘re from or what color you are.  It‘s a universal language.  It‘s a universal language of struggle, of pain, of fun, of love.  It‘s something that everybody can relate to.  But it has a certain soul and passion to it that no music, no musical genre has. 


NORVILLE:  Is it because of the poetry of it and the cadence of the words, the way you put it all together? 

COMBS:  The way I would describe it is, the same problems that kids in the inner city have, people don‘t think that young kids in the suburbs are having those same type of issues personally.  And it‘s a lot of issues that they can relate to. 

But, also, it‘s one of the greatest forms in music.  It‘s infectious once your start listening.  It‘s the modern day form of rock ‘n‘ roll, just like rock ‘n‘ roll was back in the ‘60s.  It‘s that same type of energy and vibe, but the message in it, the emotional and spiritual connection to it, is something that transcends cultures. 


NORVILLE:  But rock ‘n‘ roll never had some of the law enforcement issues that rap and hip-hop had, when Notorious B.I.G., who was one of your proteges was killed and then Tupac was killed. 


COMBS:  This thing is very powerful.  And it scares some people. 


COMBS:  It scares a lot of people that this culture is seeping into the suburbs.  This is taking over the brains of your kids.  Your kids aren‘t going to see in black and white anymore. 

Your kids are going to see a little bit more multicultural by this.  Your kids are going to wear Sean Jean clothes.  They‘re not going to wear the clothes that you wear.  They‘re just going to have a different type of outlook.  And that scares a lot of people.  I remember Chuck D said it one time when it was growing.  You have to watch out.  We‘re going to take over the minds of your children in the suburbs. 


NORVILLE:  But you don‘t see it as take over the minds.  You see it as expanding the minds, opening their horizons.

COMBS:  Yes, yes, but I think he was saying it in a positive way.  We‘re going to break down all of the barriers, the things that you teach them to be keep them one-dimensional and we‘re going to broaden their horizons and we‘re going to show them how we live in South Central L.A., where there‘s Dr. Dre. 

We‘re going to show them how we live in Brooklyn, where there‘s Biggie.  And also, whether it‘s Eminem, we‘re going to embrace that, too, whether you come from a trailer park type of situation.  You know what I‘m saying?

NORVILLE:  You mentioned Eminem.  What do you think about Eminem‘s new

movie, his video where he‘s spoofing Michael Jackson, he‘s running around,

his hair is on fire


COMBS:  I don‘t really have a comment on that, because they‘re both my friends, so I like to stay neutral on that one.  That‘s the only bit of politics you‘ll get out of me.


COMBS:  Yes.


NORVILLE:  We‘re going to leave it at that very neutral political note.

COMBS:  Yes. 

NORVILLE:  There‘s a lot more to come. 

We‘ll continue our conversation with P. Diddy in just a second.


NORVILLE:  Back now with Sean P. Diddy Combs, who‘s out there trying

to get folks to vote, out there with


COMBS:  I‘m getting folks to vote.  I‘m really doing it.

NORVILLE:  Well, we won‘t know until November 2. 

COMBS:  I know. 

NORVILLE:  But you‘re probably going to be pretty successful.

COMBS:  I know.  You know how you have polling? 

NORVILLE:  You all have polling? 


COMBS:  Yes.  We have a polling process.  When the streets are talking, when it‘s getting hot in the streets, when you hear the local deejays speaking about it, when you hear the various artists, when you‘re in the clubs, when you‘re in the barbershops—see, you all don‘t poll us.  When you go to polls in—it‘s MSNBC? 

NORVILLE:  Yes, that‘s where we are, yes.

COMBS:  Yes.  Making sure I‘m


NORVILLE:  Right there behind you.

COMBS:  Yes. 

When MSNBC comes out with a local poll, they don‘t really go and speak to where we‘re promoting this message.

NORVILLE:  You know what they said?  I was looking up all this voter stuff.  And they say that a kid who calls another young kid and says—young person who calls another young person—and says, hey, don‘t forget to vote, just that one-on-one thing, that person is 8 to 12 percent more likely to actually get down to the polls. 


COMBS:  Yes. 

That‘s what it is.  It‘s the trust we have in each other.  So that‘s why Citizen Change is all the young men and women that have the trust.  Alicia Keys has the trust, Mary J. Blige, myself. 

And what we do is, we empower the youth that‘s out there to say, when it comes time to go to the polls, we‘re going to bum-rush these polls.  We‘re going to bring 10 of your friends.  It‘s infectious.

NORVILLE:  You‘re going to scare them when you see these big posses of kids coming in.

COMBS:  Not scare them.  It‘s a positive thing.  It should be something that is beautiful.  It shouldn‘t be looked at as America‘s worst nightmare.  It should be America‘s dream come true. 

NORVILLE:  You know, you‘ve had so many dreams that have come true. 

This past spring, you were on Broadway.

COMBS:  Yes.  Yes. 

NORVILLE:  In the Sidney Poitier role in “Raisin in the Sun.”

COMBS:  Shout out to Sidney.

NORVILLE:  How daunting is that? 

COMBS:  It was a huge amount of pressure.  But I feel like it‘s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  A lot of things that are going to make you who you become.  I think that playing his role, but playing the role most importantly of Walter Lee, because I had the pressure, but also the inspiration. 

I used it as inspiration of Sidney Poitier playing this role.  And so I didn‘t use it as much as pressure.  But it was a little bit of pressure.

NORVILLE:  I bet it was a lot.


COMBS:  But playing Walter Lee Younger, this was a beautiful, brilliant young man that had a drive and determination that he wanted to be somebody. 

So that was the story that everybody could relate do.  He wanted to be somebody.  But his cards weren‘t dealt like that.  He was a chauffeur in 1959 on the South Side of Chicago of Chicago.  And he had a chance to get some money, his father‘s insurance money.  And one of his best friends stole the money.  That‘s a story that we all go through.  And his life was changed forever.  So he never got the right momentum to make his dreams come true.  And a lot of young American men and women deal with that every day.  That‘s a universal story that we can relate to.

NORVILLE:  Which is why so many people went to Broadway to see I.the

COMBS:  Yes. 

NORVILLE:  Here‘s a small clip of Sean Combs in “Raisin in the Sun.”


COMBS:  All of God‘s children (INAUDIBLE)


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  You better get out of my face.


COMBS:  I don‘t know.  What you all think?  Should we give this to her?  Seems like she ain‘t been very cooperative around here lately.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  Well, what is it?

COMBS:  What you all think?  Should we give it to her?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  Well, she was pretty good today. 



COMBS:  Open it, mama.  Read the note. 


NORVILLE:  Sean Combs sharing the stage with Phylicia Rashad, who went on to win a Tony for that performance.

COMBS:  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  They viewed me as, I‘m a good luck charm. 

All the ladies out there, all of the actresses out there, I‘m the

perfect leading man to play opposite you.  When I played opposite of Halle

Berry, she won an Oscar.  When I played opposite of


NORVILLE:  That was “Monster‘s Ball.”

COMBS:  “Monster‘s Ball.”  Yes, I was her husband.  It was quick, but I was in there.


COMBS:  When I played opposite of Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald, they won Tony Awards.  And Phylicia‘s Tony Award was the first—she was the first black female to win a Tony Award in a dramatic role on Broadway.

So it‘s been great.  It‘s been—and she taught me so much, working opposite Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald, Sanaa Lathan, and doing the whole Broadway experience.  And the Broadway community just embraced me.  It made me the actor that I‘m about to become. 

NORVILLE:  About to become, because it‘s being announced probably as we‘re sitting here that you‘ll be playing a role in the prequel to “Carlito‘s Way,” which is going to be directed by Michael Bregman.

COMBS:  Yes.  Yes.  Yes. 

NORVILLE:  Is there a whole another film career?

COMBS:  Yes. 

NORVILLE:  You played with Halle in “Monster‘s Ball.”  She was the first black American woman to win an Oscar.

COMBS:  I‘m coming to Hollywood soon.  Right now, we‘re going to start in New York, because I‘m recording my present album.  And I will be announcing a couple of film roles.  I wanted to get the experience of Broadway and to learn and to just grow as an actor.  And future wise, that‘s something that I definitely want to go into as an artist. 

NORVILLE:  As good as it is right now, back when the criticism trial was going on, it must have seemed so incredibly bleak when you looked ahead.

COMBS:  Yes. 

NORVILLE:  Had you been convicted, you could have faced 15 years in prison. 

COMBS:  Yes. 

NORVILLE:  How did you stay strong during that? 

COMBS:  God, through everything.  That wasn‘t my first situation.

Throughout my life, I‘ve had so many ups and downs, just like most people out there, and so many days where you feel like there‘s no hope, there‘s no light at the end of the tunnel.  And as long as I kept God in my heart and just had all my faith in God, he never let me down.  And so I give all glory to God wherever I‘m at and have complete faith.  No matter what happens, I‘m all right, because I‘m with God.

NORVILLE:  How are you raising your sons?  You have three little boys, what 6, 10 and 13, I guess? 

COMBS:  Yes. 

NORVILLE:  What do you teach them about being not just a success in life, but being a good person in life? 

COMBS:  That‘s the most important thing. 

No matter how much money I make or how many Oscars or Grammys I win, that‘s not going to get me into heaven and that‘s not going to make me be a person that truly has made a difference for man.  And I think that what I try to stress to them, I never stress success or money or following in my footsteps.  I stress them being gentleman, having a good heart, having God in their lives and respecting life and enjoying their lives. 

Right now, I really stress having fun.  I want my kids to be kids and have fun and have a ball and just act like kids.  And I just try to be a big kid with them, because I‘m really just a real overgrown kid with them, so...

NORVILLE:  And you‘re having fun, too. 


NORVILLE:  This Citizen Change, it‘s a lot of work, but I can tell you‘re jazzed by it.

COMBS:  Yes, it‘s a lot of work, but it‘s fun.  It‘s another approach to politics.  And it‘s something that‘s working. 

For years, people have wondered how to get to the young people.  Just try speaking to them.  Go into to where they‘re at.  Stop being afraid of young people.  Stop being afraid of minorities.  To the candidate, stop just going to churches in the inner city. 


COMBS:  It rubs us the wrong way that you won‘t go to see where we live at, where I used to live and where my people live at.  Don‘t just go to the safe places, where it‘s just churches.  Go see where the people are at.  Go have a rally, wave some flags on 125th Street.  Go to where people are struggling, where it‘s right in your face and you can‘t get away from it.

NORVILLE:  All right. 

It‘s great to have you on.  I hope you will come back after the

election.  And we wish you a happy birthday


COMBS:  Thank you very...

NORVILLE:  Sean Combs.

COMBS:  Remember I told you that young people and minorities are going to come out in the biggest voter turnout in years. 

NORVILLE:  We‘ll know November 2. 


NORVILLE:  Sean Combs, good luck to you with everything.

COMBS:  Thank you. 

NORVILLE:  And if you want some more information about P. Diddy‘s get-out-the-vote effort, just come to our Web page.  The address is NORVILLE.MSNBC.  We‘ve got all the links you need right there.  

We‘ll be back.


NORVILLE:  We like to hear from you.  So e-mail us at

NORVILLE@MSNBC.com.  We have got some of your messages posted on our Web page.  That address is NORVILLE.MSNBC.com, same place you can sign up for our newsletter. 

And that is our program for tonight.  Thanks so much for watching. 

I‘m Deborah Norville. 

Coming up tomorrow night, “HARDBALL” and Chris Matthews will take over the time slot for a battle for the White House special report. 

And coming up next, Joe Scarborough and “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.”  We‘ll see you guys on Thursday.



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