Art For Life Miami Beach Benefit Gala with Russell Simmons and celebrity friends

ESSENCE.COM Aug, 27, 2008

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Russell and Danny Simmons Star-Studded Gala for the Arts

The hip-hop mogul benefit gala supports youth arts programs in Miami and New York City

By Kenya N. Byrd

America’s youth desperately need a creative outlet. Thankfully, Russell Simmons and his brother Danny Simmons are the dynamic duo to provide it for them. As co-chairmen and co-founders of The Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, the siblings brought together a diverse group of celebrity friends, financial power brokers, athletes and socialites for the first annual The Art for Life Miami Beach Benefit Gala. Over the years, the brothers have hosted a total of eight fundraisers in the Hamptons and two in Palm Beach.

Russell’s girlfriend Porschla Coleman, his eldest daughter Ming Lee, Art for Life honoree Suze Orman, who participated in the auction and bought a 1-on-1 with Alonzo Mourning for her nephew, and Russell Simmons talk shop.

“We honored Suze Orman because she got on a plane and went to the hoods all over the country just to teach financial literacy,” says Russell. “She said, ‘I want to help. I have this valuable information and I want to share it.’”

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The Bath Club was abuzz as the industry’s glitterati united for a good cause.

Miami Heat’s Alonzo Mourning and his son Trey and wife and event chair Tracy Wilson Mourning, who served as an event chair, strike a pose in support of Art For Life. A percentage of net proceeds were donated to Miami Dade County via grants for arts programs that serve disadvantaged youth.

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John Legend and Miami Heat’s Dwayne Wade double up for a great cause. Wade, Honorary Chairman Sean “Diddy” Combs (who was unable to attend) NFL player Larry Johnson and girlfriend Julissa Bermudez, a former BET 106 & Park co-host, each sponsored 10 kids.

Legend, founder of the Show Me Campaign, was one of the evening’s honorees. Humbled by the recognition, he expressed the importance of arts education.

“I believe it’s a critical investment in our children’s future to fund arts education," says the singer who recently attended a congressional hearing in D.C. with Robert Redford and Kerry Washington to ask for increased funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. "Through the arts students are able to explore their world in a more thoughtful, alternative way rather than just reading it directly from a history or social studies book” .

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Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation co-chairs and co-founders Russell and Danny Simmons raised $575,000 for their first Art For Life Miami Beach Benefit Gala held at The Bath Club, an exclusive venue owned by the fundraiser platinum sponsor billionaire R. Donahue Peebles. Other sponsors included Wal-Mart, Anheuser-Bush and Hennessy.

“Arts education is important because creative thinkers help make better and stronger thinkers who think outside the box,” Danny Simmons, the VP, founder and brainchild behind Arts for Life. “The absence of arts education is detrimental not only to a child’s creative spirit but their overall development.”

Russell credits he and his siblings success to their arts education. “I know that neither my brothers Reverend Run and Danny or myself would have survived without an arts education.”

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“Art For Life Miami Beach was a big success,” says Russell. “Not only did everyone have a great time, but due to the generosity of our supporters in Miami and throughout South Florida, our Foundation was able to raise a lot of money in support of youth arts education.”

Russell and pal Pauly Shore talk arts and life during the festivities. The benefit gala raised more than $575,000 for youth arts programs in Miami and New York City.

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Russell and Wyclef Jean enjoy the festivities with a VIP cocktail reception on the spectacular solarium of Miami’s famed Delano Hotel and ended with a youth arts day award ceremony at DASH (Design Architecture Senior High School) Gallery in Miami’s Design District. Famed Miami artist Romero Britto and abstract painter William Debilzan were on hand to present the winning students with their awards. Winners will have their work displayed at Rush Arts Gallery in New York City’s Chelsea arts district.

Wyclef sings praises of the hip-hop mogul and his charitable work. “I look up to Russell so I can’t really call him my peer. He’s more of a mentor and it was a huge pat on the back for me to get that call from someone I look up to. The arts saved me by keeping me busy and allowing me to focus on positive things. Young people who get involved in the arts become driven and stay driven to do good things for themselves and others. We have to push our government to increase funding for the arts. I am committed to helping young people and have done a mentoring program in the past with Clef Kids and continue to give back and remain dedicated to improving the lives of Haiti’s disadvantaged youth through my Yelé Haiti Foundation (”

Russell also speaks highly of his honoree: “Wyclef jean is a hero to me. His work with Haiti and commitment to so many foundations is inspiring. What I love most about him is that he’s pretty much a yes- and go-to man—he shows up!”

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Honoree and Grammy-winning crooner and songwriter John Legend and his girlfriend Christine Teigen snuggle cheek-to-cheek. The Grammy-winning crooner and songwriter sponsored 10 Rush Kids and donated his vocals to the worthy cause. As one of the prize auctions, “The Legend himself volunteered his gift of song to with a personal “happy birthday” rendition to be sung to the the lucky winner’s person of choice. The live auction which was hosted by ABC journalist John Quinones, raised $200,000.

“I consider Russell a role model—the Godfather of Hip Hop. As an entrepreneur and philanthropist, he’s been an icon to many performers including me so I was honored to be recognized by him and his organization,” says Legend. "Every young person needs arts education. Last year, I started a charitable foundation called the Show Me Campaign ( is dedicated to addressing the needs of some of the most impoverished people in the world, people living in extreme poverty in Africa. We work with an organization called Millennium Promise to fund interventions in their Millennium Villages, which provide basic needs in agriculture, health care, education and nutrition for people living on less than a dollar a day in remote villages throughout Africa.

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Russell and Alonso Mourning share a power shake.

“Through our work and our commitment to arts education we hope to create a shift in consciousness. We need artists and poets to teach everyone else to look inside because they are the ones with the inner voice and are usually the ones who can see the contradictions in life that many can’t. They have the power because they speak through their works.”

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The lavish event mixed tropical weather, a Thai marketplace, community service and art at R. Donahue Peebles’ exclusive venue, The Bath Club.

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Executive Director of Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation Tangie Murray, Rusell Simmons and Porschla Coleman show good cause. Other featured youth beneficiaries included Florida Film Institute, One Art and Thomas Armour Youth Ballet. Other grant recipients include, DASH (Design and Architecture Senior High School), American Children Orchestras for Peace, enFamilia, Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center, Miami Light Project, Roxy Theatre Group, Honey Shine Mentoring Program, Soulfrito and The Theatre Institute of South Florida.

“Cultivating creativity as well as practicing and preaching the arts is the most important education for our youth because there’s a direct correlation between arts education and general scholastic achievement,” says Russell. “Schools can be like prison without arts programs.”