Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons sat on a bar stool with a mic, talking to about 350 students at John Marshall High School like they were his personal friends.
He talked to them about all kinds of things — the music industry, fashion, Occupy Wall Street, veganism, modern day slavery and the death of the U.S. ambassador in Libya. He talked about giving back to the community.
But mostly, he talked to them about determination and making good decisions.
“You are who you hang with,” Simmons said. “If your friends are gangsters, you're a gangster, like it or not.”
Simmons said he was a in a gang, but he was lucky enough to escape. He had friends who weren't as lucky, and he told the students they'll have friends who go down the same path.
“Some of your friends are going to jail,” he said. “Some of your friends are going to die in the streets.”
Simmons visited John Marshall High School in northwest Oklahoma City Monday afternoon before speaking to business students at the University of Central Oklahoma.
The multimillionaire owns a laundry list of companies and has his hands in music, fashion, finance and other industries. He co-founded Def Jam Records and created Phat Farm clothing.
Simmons' visit was paid for by UCO, and his stop at John Marshall was a way for the university to reach out to students, said Mickey Hepner, dean of the UCO business college.
“These students are going to be tomorrow's business leaders,” Hepner said. “It's one way to help serve our community.”
John Marshall High School is home to the Finance Academy, one of the six specialty academic programs at high schools throughout the district. At the high school, about 85 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches because they come from low-income families.
Students and staff were excited for Simmons to visit the school, said freshman Keiara Bowen, 14. Students screamed and cheered, snapping photos with their phones.
For Bowen, Simmons' talk hit home.
“He didn't give up on anything,” she said. It inspires me to push forward and not give up. I used to hang in a bad crowd and now I don't. I can see how much my life has changed.”
Simmons was someone students could relate to and look up to, said freshman Kiana Fininen, 14
“He had a lot of advice because he kind of grew up in the same kind of situation our school has,” Fininen said.
Simmons told students that entrepreneurship is about dogged pursuit of a goal. Some successes have taken longer to achieve than others, he said.
“This is real,” Simmons said. “I got here by working. It's impossible not to get here if you put your head down and work.”