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Russell Simmons Creates Peaceful Public Art Protest

Jason Kempin, Getty Images

Russell Simmons spends a lot of his time fighting injustice nowadays. As a resident of downtown Manhattan with property literally right across the street from Ground Zero, Simmons has been particularly appalled at the anti-Islam sentiment that has grown in opposition to the Park 51 mosque and cultural center two blocks away. In response, Simmons called up old friend and former collaborator Glen E. Friedman to create a peaceful public art response in the Def Jam founder’s penthouse windows.

The piece, which spells out “coexist” using religious symbols, is visible throughout the neighborhood. It’s a simple yet powerful protest that serves to remind people that the first amendment and religious freedoms apply to every American citizen. In a blog post, Friedman revealed that he wanted to go with something a little more brash, but Simmons convinced him otherwise.

“Anyway, my personal idea was to just label the entire building with huge 7-foot letters spelling out M-O-S-Q-U-E (similar to how we did N-O W-A-R back before the Republikkkan convention in 2004), but unfortunately Russ, and my wife (who came up with the idea to use “CoExist,”) thought it was a bit too harsh, or “punk,” and feeding into the frenzy of negativity,” writes Friedman.

Check out some photos of the visual protest here.

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