Russell Simmons talks Flint in Ferndale

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News
Russell Simmons signs autographs during his appearance Monday at GreenSpace Cafe in Ferndale.

Business and entertainment mogul Russell Simmons spoke and shook hands at vegan restaurant GreenSpace Cafe in Ferndale on Monday to raise funds and awareness for the pop-up store Flint Community Grocery.

In February, Simmons visited Flint and donated 150,000 bottles of water via RushCard, his pre-paid debit card company. At Monday’s event, he spoke about the devastating effects of the water crisis.

“Visiting Flint will break your heart,” he said. “I live in Beverly Hills. If this (stuff) happened in Beverly Hills, the governor would be in jail. He’d be in jail, and all the people responsible would be indicted or in jail. But (in Michigan) they just keep moving like it never happened.”

Simmons, who was named PETA’s 2011 Person of the Year and is the author of “The Happy Vegan: A Guide to Living Long, Healthy and Successful” (Penguin), also spoke out against factory farming and stressed the importance of making fresh, healthy food available to everyone.

“Our American government gives $50 billion to underwrite the manufacturing of the poison that destroys our planet and kills our inhabitants,” he said. “The factory farming industry is the greatest lobby threat that we have ... those people of Flint live in a food desert and they’re paying way more for broccoli than they are for a hamburger.”

The $75-per-head mix-and-mingle event, “Gathering with a Purpose” also included Florida civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who has represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, an African-American teen shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri.

“This is a civil rights issue,” said Crump of the water crisis. “This is the most fundamental civil right, to be able to drink clean water.”

“The Democratic debates came to Flint. President Obama came to Flint ... and now people think that everything must be OK because there are no more cameras,” Crump said. “Everybody that came for the photo opp has gone, yet the children are still there ... I could only think ‘Man, what is the water that they’re having to consume, what affect is it to have on them 10 years from now, 20 years from now?’ ”

Ian Conyers, from left, Patrick Sanders, founder and CEO of Fresh Start CDC, civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, and Dr. Joel Kahn, co-owner of GreenSpace.

Pastor Patrick Sanders of Flint’s New Jerusalem Full Gospel Baptist Church, representing the Community Grocery, also spoke, along with GreenSpace’s owner, Dr. Joel Kahn. Sanders says a brick-and-mortar location for the grocery is on the way. The current pop-up store now accepts EBT card payments.

Dr. Kahn, who specializes in holistic cardiac health, echoed Simmons statements about the importance of the availability of fresh produce.

“The more fruits and vegetables you eat, the more you can detoxify your body,” he said. “Parsley, cilantro, kale and the greens can literally draw some of that terrible, terrible heavy metal lead and other contaminants out. So to have a pop-up grocery going on, well-funded on a regular basis is really one of the solutions that’s going to bring Flint back.”

For information on the Flint Community Grocery, visit

Twitter: @melodybaetens