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Hip-hop mogul returns to boro to donate funds

While he was growing up in Hollis, Russell Simmons would come to the Central Branch of the Queens Borough Public Library in Jamaica to do schoolwork and just maybe meet girls.

As chief executive officer of Rush Communications and founder of Def Jam records, Simmons went back to the same library to donate $10,000 to fund its youth programs last week.

Simmons also stayed to participate in a youth program – an open mic poetry reading. The reading was held in the auditorium of the Jamaica branch, with live Internet feeds to the Rochdale Village and Flushing branches.

Simmons’ donation will go to the Futures Fund, an endowment created by the library in 1996 to provide programs that encourage children to read and to develop their curiosity. The money will also ensure the library is able to maintain its youth programs despite the budget cuts it faced this year. The library lost about 5 percent of last year’s funding, or about $4 million.

“The library is facing severe restrictions in funding,” said Gary Strong, director of the library system, which is the largest in the country. “We have one of Queens’ own here in support of kids. I can think of no better person to represent Queens and the plight of kids.”

Simmons linked the problems and budget cuts facing the library system to those facing the city’s public schools.

“Education has to be our primary concern,” he said, “although it doesn’t seem that important to the state and the city.”

Strong agreed, saying the library’s after-school programs can often help children do better in school.

“The library is certainly about giving young people a voice and an opportunity as well,” he said. “They need a voice for their own creativity.”

At the open mic session Simmons encouraged the teens in the audience to try writing poetry as a way to express themselves.

“For me poetry is a way for people to write how they really feel,” he said.

Two artists, who go by the names “Lemon” and “Black Ice,” from Simmons’ Def Poetry television show, recited their poetry before the teens had get a chance to impress Simmons themselves. The Def Poetry show airs on HBO and is headed for Broadway later this year.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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