For years, Russell Simmons was looked at as the “face of hip-hop.” A go-to promoter and manager of the emerging genre in the ’80s, Simmons eventually become one of the most powerful men in the music industry. The pioneering mogul founded Def Jam, launched the influential TV series Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry Jam, established (and then made a fortune from) his Phat Fashions clothing line, and eventually became a self-help guru.
But the entire time he was building his empire, his accusers say Simmons used his power and influence to sexually abuse women.
In 2017, as the #MeToo movement rippled through Hollywood, women starting coming forward about their experiences with Simmons. More than a dozen women have since gone public, alleging Simmons assaulted, harassed, and in some cases, raped them.
The stories of these women will be the subject of an upcoming documentary, set to debut at Sundance this year. Producer Drew Dixon, activist and journalist Sil Lai Abrams, and former model Alexia Norton Jones have also spoken at length with multiple outlets, including CBS This Morning, about the impact of his alleged abuse and why they kept silent about it for years. Simmons, meanwhile, has vehemently denied the allegations, claiming that “all of my relations have been consensual.”
In an exclusive to The Root, some of the women have written an open letter to Simmons, vowing that their days of silence—and holding on to the pain of the past—are over.
As survivors of your sexual violence, victims of your abuse and warriors against your intimidation, we will not back down. We are strong, unified and thriving. We have lives full of personal and professional fulfillment and are pursuing and realizing our dreams. You physically attacked us as young women, and now you are using your money, power, and influence to attack us again. If not for the #MeToo movement, you might have gotten away with it. If not for the #MeToo movement, we would have continued to believe that we were single victims, anomalies, flukes. Because of the #MeToo movement we found each other and came to understand that we had one thing in common: we all were raped by you. We now know that you are a serial predator. We discovered that we are not alone. We are an army now, and we are not afraid of you.
United as an unyielding force, we are committed to the well-being, survival, and safety of all of those who have been raped, harassed, and assaulted. As Black women we are also committed to the well-being, survival and safety of innocent Black men, because we can multitask. As Black mothers, sisters, daughters and as the nurturers of Black men we are acutely aware of how vulnerable you are in this country. How dare you use that against us now? How dare you use our loyalty to our race to divide us now that it is convenient for you? We are Black, and we are women. We are victims, and you are a rapist. That is the bottom line. Black women and girls have a right to be respected and unmolested. That conversation must coexist alongside the urgent and ongoing conversation about the safety and rights of Black men. It is not either/or; it must be both. Our commitment to our race includes holding our men accountable.
No amount of spiritual bypassing can mask your actions. There is not enough meditation in the world to offset the violence you inflicted upon our bodies, the irreparable damage done to our confidence as young women, and in some cases, the derailment of our careers. The good that you have done does not erase the harm that you have caused, and the tragedy is that every single one of us was once tremendously proud of you. You built an empire, discovered stars and created Black wealth, but you also exploited, sexualized, and diminished Black women on your way to the top. Your choices have made you rich and powerful, and now you use your disproportionate influence and muscle to overpower us just like you physically overpowered us before. The outcome however, will be different this time. We’ve kept your secret for far too long to turn back now, and we will not be intimidated by a bully.
You and your allies have been running the predator’s playbook. You have deployed old tropes and language describing women as hysterical or mentally ill, suggesting that we don’t know our own minds and are confused about what happened to our own bodies. How insulting. You have even disparaged some of us for seeking mental health support and counseling, which is not only a deflection but is a disgrace coming from someone who has written countless books about self-help, wellness and spirituality. Toni Morrison once said that “If you want to fly, you’ve got to give up the things that weigh you down.” Keeping your secret has been weighing us down, so to be clear, this is not about you. This is about us letting go of the pain that you caused so that we can be free.
The #MeToo movement, ignited in 2017 and originated by Tarana Burke, a Black woman, changed the trajectory of our lives. We are now strong, resilient and courageous warriors, and your time is up.
Editor’s note: Simmons’ accusers are being supported by the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which advocates on behalf of survivors of sexual abuse.