In a fully packed Deepak HomeBase – located on the mezzanine of ABC Home – host Deepak Chopra spoke with Erica Ford and Russell Simmons in the first ever Love in Action Conversation, re-defining power through consciousness, love and compassion.
Erica Ford, founder of Life Camp Inc., and Russell Simmons, CEO of Rush Communications and anti-violence advocate, are two individuals who are striving to disseminate a message of peace amongst a younger generation, focusing specifically on inner-city youth. Their tactics stress the importance of consciousness, love, and creativity as ways to combat violence.
“A lot of times we respond negatively to people, because of our own frustration with our life. We sometimes lash out at the next person, and we don’t pay attention to that emotion. That’s how our young people can be the way they are; there are no lessons on love,” Erica commented.
As the founder Life Camp Inc., Erica works daily with inner-city children and teens to change this mentality, empowering them to say ‘no’ to destructive, harmful decisions. She does this through several tactics, stressing the importance of “emotional intelligence”: understanding the humanity in each and every individual and addressing problems one-on-one, not just with a single broad stroke. With this type of specialized attention – understanding the nuances of feeling specific to all she interacts with – she has been able to connect with and impact hundreds of young lives. Monday’s audience included a woman Erica mentored out of suicide, who now uses poetry as a creative outlet, along with a teen who put down his gun and picked up a camera because of his experience with Life Camp (he snapped photos the whole time–his picture, below!).
Both Erica and Russell were born and raised in and around New York City – in neighborhoods where gang culture, violence, and drug use was common. As such, they intimately understand the environment these young people grow up in. By infiltrating and connecting on a grassroots level, they are able to actually affect change.
Deepak, in support of this thinking, drew interesting parallels to gang and peer leaders, “These gang leaders; they have self-power as opposed to agency power. They feel beneath no one, they are fearless, and they have a sense of self. If you can give that same sense of self to a young person – with all those ingredients, but with the right motivation – a gang leader becomes a real leader.”
Erica’s approach capitalizes on this line of thought, through initiatives like I Love My Life, wherein “We teach young people that loving their life is cool – because, like in hip-hop culture, people want to be down with what’s cool, what’s sexy, what sells.” By having parties, doing PSAs, or handing out street-wear inspired clothing with the I Love My Life message, she attracts young people to her “gang.”
Want to help out? Well, you are needed. Despite the success of programs like Erica, her lack of capital is a continual issue. Russell stressed, “There are so many programs with people like Erica that empower. They are so underfunded. When you have people who understand the community, who are engaged like Erica, they really need funding.” He has done his part to be involved in Life Camp – and organizations like it – putting out a call to action for the audience (and you, our reader!) to do the same.
-Recap by Julia Sweeney, photography by Chris New