Beliefnet
As a member of one of hip hop's first families, Russell Simmons knows about brotherhood. As cofounder of pioneering Def Jam Records, he promoted his brother’s group Run D.M.C., turning its new urban sound from ghetto backdrop to cultural milestone. Simmons has succeeded in a variety of businesses, from music to fashion to jewelry.

Today, there is another brotherhood Simmons is part of. Earlier this year, he became chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU), a nonprofit organization that works to eradicate racism and build understanding between ethnic groups.

"Through communication we can work on clearing up the misunderstandings that keep our peoples divided," Simmons, who is 49, said shortly after joining FFEU. “There is so much history that proves blacks and Jews have a common experience. Fundamentally, we all come from the same place, and that is a heritage based on family values and love.”

He is nominated as most inspiring person of the year for his work in promoting racial harmony and fighting anti-Semitism.

Simmons is behind FFEU's National Ethnic Tolerance Campaign and appears in national public service announcements. He has had a hand in its constructing a high school curriculum based on the campaign.

Simmons is also the chairman of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN), a non-profit coalition of music artists and executives who advocate for youth on subjects like education, poverty and civil rights. With his brothers Joseph (Rev. Run) and Danny, he founded the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, which is dedicated to exposing urban youth to the arts. Rush is Simmons’ street name, a vestige of his past. Today, he is a vegan and yoga practitioner, who adheres to Buddhist principles of compassion and love.

Simmons has worked to get out the vote among urban youth. He has spoken against animal cruelty in factory farm and slaughterhouses and joined People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal's (PETA) campaign against some fast food franchises.

In July 2006, Simmons and several other members of HSAN were named United Nations Goodwill Ambassadors. In this capacity, he will help launch a worldwide awareness campaign using hip-hop to address the problems of war, poverty and HIV/AIDS.

One of Simmons' current projects is a line of yoga videos that he hopes will attract the hip-hop community. Proceeds from the sales of the first video will benefit the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation.

"Russell's generosity is a force," says Elena Paige, his yoga teacher and a featured yogini in the videos. "He shares not only his resources, he shares his love and personal understanding of yoga, and has managed to bring people to the practice who might not have otherwise found it."

View 2006 nominees' photo gallery.
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