Martin Luther King Jr.'s Message Lives On

Wattleton: I think the most important contribution of Dr. King's life is that he created a symbol. He was a symbol for, for racial justice, for non-violence, for the possibility to move people forward, to compel people to come together who might not otherwise see common cause.

Russell Simmons

Simmons is the co-founder of Def Jam Records . In 1995 Simmons and his two brothers founded Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, dedicated to providing disadvantaged urban youth with significant arts exposure, access and education as well as providing exhibition opportunities to early and mid-career artists and artists of color.

Claiborne: Do you remember anything of, firsthand or your parents talking about, the speech Dr. King gave in 1963?

Simmons: I don't know that I have a firsthand recollection of the speech, but his legacy has been a great inspiration to me. It's affected me deeply and it's kind of guided me in many ways. But he was a troublemaker when he was alive, and he said things that challenged everybody. He was an honest voice. He had a straightforward vision. And he realized that the best way to make people change is through loving them.

Claiborne: Do you remember when Dr. King was killed?

Simmons: Yeah, just a little bit. I went to school that day, and I remember the people were very upset. I went to an integrated school. I was being bused back then.

Claiborne: Looking back, from the perspective of today, what do you think Dr. King's life, the message of his life was? What was the message of his struggle that he led?

Simmons: Well, Dr. King is an inspiration to me. As you know, I run five charities. One of my philanthropic investments is kind of a social investment as well as the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. He would stand up for other groups, and he would think that what you did for others is what you would get as a result. You would receive what you gave. The inspiration that I get from him is to go out and lift other people's burden and that will then change your circumstances. Claiborne: Do you think younger African-Americans really appreciate what his life and struggle and leadership meant today, or is it just the name of a street and a holiday?

Simmons: I think that young people, African-Americans and others, recognize that Dr. King was a figure that promoted peace in the way maybe Gandhi has an image. He's a statement of peace.

Claiborne: Do you think there would be an African-American president today were it not for what Martin Luther King did and said and how he led his life and led this movement?

Simmons: I think that Dr. King was a great part of what led to us having an African-American president. And I don't know that there would be an African-American president if it were not for Dr. King's work.

Claiborne: Is this an equal society for all people, today?

Simmons: I think there's a lot of suffering in the minds of African-Americans due to their history. And I think there's a lot of people who have stereotypes of African-Americans that limit their ability to see African-Americans in some leadership roles or some roles.

Claiborne: Do you believe that today, 2010, Dr. King's dream is fully realized?

Simmons: I would absolutely not say that his dream is realized. The integration that kids aspire to is not a reality.

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