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Simmons, DiCaprio and Africa empowerment

Russell Simmons poses with Beyonce with Green braceletThe publicity bout over the image of diamonds continued throughout both Oscar and All-Star weekends with both Russell Simmons and Leonardo DiCaprio doing their part to promote awareness of their initiatives addressing blood diamonds. Simmons recently launched his Green Initiative jewelry line in Beverly Hills, California with celebrities such as Sanaa Lathan, Eva Pigford, Serena Williams, Paris Hilton, and Rosario Dawson. If you remember the Green Initiative is set up to raise money for “the development and empowerment of the people and communities in Africa where diamonds are a natural resource.” The initiative is part of the Diamond Empowerment Fund “a non-profit international organization” which Simmons announced at his press conference a few months ago. While Simmons has been busy courting celebrities such as Beyonce with the Green Bracelet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Ryan Gosling and others promoted the Amnesty International and Global Witness campaign against gem mining in troubled areas of the world by wearing a red teardrop pin to the Oscars. The pins were later auctioned off to benefit the campaign.

I’ve been following the developments of the blood diamonds campaigns closely and have been seeing a convergence of thoughts from both sides of the debate. Initially there were two separate camps that were bent on proving the other wrong in the public eye. But as the months – and the initial hype – have passed, I’ve seen both sides resolve to push strategies which though different on the surface, can have similar results: Giving Africans more control over their resources. DiCaprio, Hounsou, Amnesty International, and Global Witness are working outside of the current system to bring about the change in business practices, while Simmons is trying to work within the system to reach a fairly similar goal. While I see working within the current system as a dangerous strategy, I’m eager to see how Simmons walks the tightrope of getting an industry that is bent on maintaining it’s stronghold to purge itself of a practice that has worked so well. Maybe as Amnesty International’s campaign continues to put pressure on the diamond manufacturers, Simmons’ job will become easier. Time will tell which strategy is most effective.

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