Simmons, Matthews on U.S. race relations

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On the eve of this past weekend's Millions More March in Washington,  D.C., music, entertainment and fashion mogul Russell Simmons joined MSNBC's Chris Matthews on Friday's 'Hardball' to discuss race relations in America and look back at the Million Man March, held 10 years ago.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:  ... If you were a power in this government, if you were Karl Rove, if you were President Bush and you wanted to do something really good for race relations in this country, for opportunities for African-Americans, what would you do?  What would you do differently?

SIMMONS:  Well, the first thing I would do -- and I've had many conversations with members of this administration and the Republican Party, and especially more recently with Ken Mehlman, we talk about a war on poverty and ignorance.  It's not only black people who are suffering.

The fact is that we are not addressing the needs of the poor.  And this movement, I hope, is something that will inspire them.  There are two sides of course.  There's ways to repair the past for African-Americans and there's ways to uplift all the people who are living in poverty, but there's also a spiritual component that is critical. 

And what I got from the last two marches, because I -- there was a march five years ago which was considered by some in the media to be a flop, and I stood on the stage and I saw what looked like 10 baseball stadiums full of people, a half a million people.  That means it was even bigger than Dr. King's march -- Million Family March.

And each time you get into a crowd that big and you make a commitment to move toward God, you're inspired in a way that I cannot describe.  I certainly was and I know that hundreds of thousands of African-Americans and people who watched were inspired and went to work. 

Many people went to work by joining organizations.  Many people adopted babies.  Many people adopted people in the prison system.  Many organizations got tremendous increases in their membership. 

So it's an ongoing process -- giving.  Giving is something you do not just one time, or you start in one movement; you do it until you get in the box.  So that's my feeling about it. 

This third march is another great step, but we have to keep stepping and that's what I'm hopeful will happen. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. You know, Russell, I was there 10 years ago, I was wandering around with my notepad interviewing guys my age, regular guys, and they didn't come on buses, they didn't come in groups.  They came as regular guys.  They'd all say the same thing to me, "I felt I had to be here.  And at the last minute I just I'm going to get in the car, get on the train, I'm going to get here." 

These are the kinds of things they said.  And one of them said, "I'm not here because of the leader."  He wasn't there because of Farrakhan.  He said, "This is one of the nicest things I have ever seen.  I've never seen this many blacks, so many different shapes, sizes and clothing." 

Another fellow said, "The black man has turned away from his responsibility and now he is turning back.  We got off course.  We've got to stop killing each other." 

And this is a great line:  "I hope this won't rub off like Earth Day when everybody recycles for a day and that's it." 

How do you create a moment that stays? 

SIMMONS:  You know, one thing about the leader is that he is an excellent speaker and we know that he means what he says.  His heart is honest. 

You know, many politicians speak and you want to believe them, but you know the history of most politicians in this country -- even African-American leaders, some who seem to have been compromised. 

Now, you can say anything you want about Minister Farrakhan, but we know that he has transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of African-Americans and that his heart -- he's a person who would lay down his life, and people like that. 

And then other leaders who were there are great speakers.  And again, in yoga we have something called satsang and sanskrit, and every religion they have it, when you get together for one purpose, which is a common agenda to uplift people, that it is a spiritual transformation for you. 

You have to feel it.  So to have these people and have a dramatic kind of impact on their lives-they go home and they join organizations.  They adopt children.  They do all the things they did last time. 

So all I can say is that this is a tremendous cause.  I'm thrilled to be part of this third march.  I was part of the second one as well and I was at the first one.  And I think it's a very worthy and special cause.

MATTHEWS:  What's a more important cause for the African-American community:  self-help, reform, moral rearmament, if you will, or ending prejudice from the whites? 

SIMMONS:  Well, you know, I'm the chairman of an organization called the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.  And Rabbi Schneider, who is my buddy, is the partner, is the president, ... the rabbi and I did this poll, and the results will be coming out in the next few days.  It's astounding, to find that we have such different views about race relations. 

MATTHEWS:  Whites think it's good, blacks think it's not as good? 

SIMMONS:  That's right.  That's pretty obvious, but it's much worse.  But the good news is that young people, much more tolerant, loving and compassionate.  Much more.

MATTHEWS:  You know, my daughter-I shouldn't talk about it, but she is in high school.  We went to the PTA meeting the other night, and one of her teachers was black.  You know, back in my day, we would have said something to our parents.  We'd said, my math teacher is black or something like that.  Kids don't say that anymore. 


MATTHEWS:  They don't think it's worth noting.  And it's not, obviously, but in our day, it was. 

SIMMONS:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  So some things are changing, at the edges, at least. 

SIMMONS:  Here's the good news. I have to say, 50 Cent and Eminem are one and the same people.  One was born and lived in the trailer park, and one was born and lived in the housing projects.  They have the same struggle.
MATTHEWS:  So you really do believe that, you think a white poor person doesn't have it easier assimilating and getting across into the middle class than a black person who is born poor? 

SIMMONS:  Well, if you're born in the trailer park -- you know, poverty and ignorance is something-poverty is a great part of it in America today, it's a mind-set. 

MATTHEWS:  I wish I was as optimistic.  When I saw those people down there sweating and scared to death they're going to die down in New Orleans, if those had been white faces, I got to tell you, there would have been a lot more anger against Bush in the white community, a lot more anger. 

SIMMONS:  We learned that from our survey, and we knew that to some degree.  But you know, dwelling on that, that's why I think the minister's message is so good, because you get your foot from in front of yourself and move forward. 

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