Erica Ford, Russell Simmons, and Deepak Chopra Champion LIFE Camp

life camp LIFE Camp students celebrate the program’s I Love My LIFE Day event

This summer Erica Ford will introduce Hamptonites to LIFE Camp, the organization she founded to help inner-city teens and young adults develop into peer leaders and avoid becoming victims or perpetrators of violence; to provide them with resources that promote critical thinking, self-empowerment, and personal accountability; and to create a model for them to reduce violence and effect positive change in their communities. Ford has been working with at-risk teens in high-crime neighborhoods of New York for the past 10 years, and collaborations with prominent supporters like Deepak Chopra and Russell Simmons have helped further her cause through a series of events and benefits. On August 27, Chopra, Simmons, and Ford team up for an evening of dinner and conversation at Beaumarchais East Hampton, sponsored by Moroccanoil, to help connect the charity with the Hamptons community in an effort to encourage donations and increase volunteerism.

DEEPAK CHOPRA: As a big supporter of Erica Ford, her LIFE Camp, and her efforts like NY Peace Week and the Peace is a LIFEstyle campaign, I’ve been working with Erica since last year when she did the Deepak HomeBase event called “Love in Action.” The Chopra Foundation strongly believes that you need both love and action to make a difference in the world. Love without action is meaningless, and action without love is irrelevant. Erica, what happened to make you want to start LIFE Camp?

ERICA FORD: The number of funerals I was attending for people of such a young age [made me think] there has to be something else…. It’s interesting that you say “love and action,” because it was my love for the people I grew up with that made me want to do this. A lot of men were killed in the crack epidemic in New York in the 1980s, and because of the repercussions, a lot of young people were left without parents. I wanted to give them life, and that’s why we came up with “LIFE”—it stands for “Love Ignites Freedom through Education.” We felt that if we provided them with something different, they would see a better life.

DC: What was your initial source of funding?

EF: It was straight compassion; I would take all my money and put it into the work. A lot of people volunteered and donated time—talking to the kids, taking them to their jobs, letting them come to concerts and events. We started just doing events with the kids and giving them another vision.

DC: I felt compelled to join you. We brought in [New York yoga guru] Eddie Stern, and we’ve been teaching kids skills of self-awareness, mindbody coordination, breath awareness, and yoga. They have responded very enthusiastically. What do you feel this experience has done for them?

EF: We went to Brownsville, Brooklyn, one of the highest-crime areas of New York City, and we went to the South Bronx, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the US. We had the kids participate in these workshops, and I saw the transformation. They went from reciting lyrics to the worst rap songs to, at the end of the cycle, reciting “stop, breathe, think” and doing different yoga poses; some taught their parents how to do poses, meditate, and implement yoga for the family. It’s very impactful because they found a way in the midst of all the madness to find inner peace. And now they are able to focus more on the things that are productive in their life.

 Eddie Stern does yoga with young people at the Love in Action event at Deepak Homebase located at ABC Carpet and Home

DC: Eddie [Stern] and I have been talking about doing hip-hop yoga, and I think [these kids] could be pioneers in a new style of yoga for the rest of the country. For me, this has been one of the most gratifying experiences: to see their enthusiasm, creativity, and intelligence, which seem to unfold so naturally for them. How do you see that actually being taken to the next step countrywide?

EF: You talk about hip-hop yoga: Russell [Simmons] to me is like a symbol of hip-hop, and when people think of peace, serenity, yoga, and meditation, they think of Deepak Chopra. Working with the two of you, who are giants in your fields, can allow young people to see that this is something they want to be part of. Bringing the whole concept of peace as a lifestyle—the way they live, talk, interact—can transform communities, one child, one family at a time. From the energy that is being created from working with the two of you, I was able to convince the New York City government to support the Peace is a LIFEstyle campaign. They’re going to be supporting the therapeutic work, yoga in the schools, and also some of the groundwork in getting guns off the streets and out of these young people’s hands.

DC: Let’s talk more about this event on August 27 in East Hampton. Russell and I will be there to speak of our connection to LIFE Camp and the need to support New York City youth. What do you want this event to be?

A Life Camp student thanks Deepak after meditation class

EF: My goal is to present the Peace is a LIFEstyle concept to this audience, the Hamptons community, and to engage in conversation on the importance of peace.

DC: Russell, what are your expectations?

RUSSELL SIMMONS: I want to create enough awareness so people find this a priority. Erica created a support system for these kids, and it needs funding and creative ideas. This is something I care about deeply. What I want from this event is for the city and the people to rally around Erica. When she brought the program outside the community and asked for support, and someone like Deepak joined, it gave a different perspective. Giving the kids in the community these kinds of tools is very helpful, and it is more organic in terms of promoting a more peaceful attitude in the community. So to find new resources for Erica is a goal. I would like to see more support systems for her so that she can more effectively do her job.

Deepak speaks with Russell Simmons and Erica Ford during the first-ever
Love in Action Conversation at Deepak Homebase

DC: I want to announce one thing: The Chopra Foundation, which is our nonprofit division, has partnered with the designer Rachel Roy to create [lines of] clothing and jewelry, and all the proceeds [from those collections] will be going to LIFE Camp. I think that this partnership will be an impetus for other people to follow through.

RS: Thank you, Deepak! The idea is bringing it to the Hamptons and creating a new avenue, a new support system for Erica. People don’t understand the condition of these urban communities. We talk about it when something happens like in Aurora, Colorado, but we don’t mention that just as many kids can get shot in one weekend in another community. It’s kind of a darker tragedy when you think about it because [a number of] kids getting shot by different shooters points to a much different sickness. We forget that these kinds of incidents have been happening in Queens or Brooklyn or New York City on a regular basis. We may not be able to protect against one sick person, but the sickness of a society, that can be worked on. It’s a shame when we don’t work on it more. When we have effective programs like Erica has created, we have to make sure we’re there to support them.