Elec Simon is one of those people who you could easily talk to for hours. He’s a seasoned performer with Ohio roots, who tours the globe sharing his musical gift with the world. The man is energetic, generous with humor, and doesn’t hesitate to offer a slice of his pizza (even if you’re a complete stranger interviewing him for a magazine article).
Simon is a drummer and tap dancer who performed in both the NYC and tour productions of “Stomp.” He also tours as a percussionist with the jazz group, Pieces of a Dream and performs with the 216 Stix for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
After the pandemic hit and performance opportunities evaporated, Simon prioritized learning a few new skills: he learned to drive a school bus and a forklift.
“I’ve always wanted my CDL, but never had time to get it,” said Simon. “I used my pandemic downtime wisely by studying and training during the day. Then at night, I work the second shift stacking pallets at DHL.”
The Commercial Driver's License (CDL) is required for bus drivers. While it might seem like an unusual leap for Simon, the bus won’t be the first place students meet him. He regularly performs anti-bullying/life assemblies at area schools (as well as prisons) to encourage people to love life, respect others and believe in themselves.
“My message of respect is key because you don’t know what somebody else is going through,” said Simon. “No matter the venue, my goal is to deliver a ‘motivational musical’ that empowers people and makes them feel good.”
Every assembly is different, according to Simon, as he’ll scan the crowd and decide on the spot what the kids need to hear most – from real life challenges to bullying and beyond.
“Everyone from prison inmates down to 5-year-old kids have told me ‘You changed my life,’” said Simon. “But the number one thing I hear most is ‘You taught me to be myself.’”
This empowering work with children in the community earned Simon a Ten Outstanding Young Americans (TOYA) award in 2019. As part of JCI USA (formerly known as the Jaycees), TOYA is one of the oldest and most prestigious recognition programs in America. Notable past winners include John F. Kennedy (1946), Elvis Presley (1970) and Peyton Manning (1999), among others.
Since the NBA came back, Simon is once again putting on a bucket drum show with 216 Stix. But until he can return to performing inside schools, Simon will empower students as their bus driver.
“I’m not just going to get on the bus and tell every kid to have a good day,” said Simon. “It’s gonna be my time to talk to these little souls – if I can’t be on stage with them, I will reach them another way.”
Simon is not one to shy away from the stage, in fact, he knew early on he wanted to perform, having watched his mother stage manage huge gospel concerts and other events. He’s even embraced the spotlight as a corporate event emcee, most notably at Unfair Advantage Live in NYC and The Summit Of Greatness in Columbus.
Last summer, he felt called to step out on an unfamiliar stage. This time, in protest.
Following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, Simon marched with the crowd and spoke at the Downtown Canton protests. Not far from his current residence overlooking the city, Simon – alongside friend Dallas Harper – contended ‘a world that was trying to preach hate’ and advocated against violence and looting.
“May 29 changed my life. It was the worst week ever, but I’m glad it happened,” insisted Simon. “Some people called me a sellout because I didn’t want to burn the city down or because I said ‘not all cops are bad.’ I lost a lot of associates because of the way I responded that day, and I’m glad I did.”
Simon feels nervous every time he hops in his Jeep, and says bad cops do need to be held accountable. Still, he wants people to quit labeling them all the same. He also wants to set a positive example for the kids watching him.
“We have to come together and do this another way,” said Simon. “People hated hearing that from a black man.”
Perhaps that experience inspired Simon to write and record his first single, “Learn How to Love,” which will be released in 2021. Another forthcoming release, Simon’s first feature-length film, “Judas and the Black Messiah,” is due out later this month.
If you’re keeping track, that’s drumming, dancing, motivational speaking, emceeing, songwriting, singing, acting and, of course, driving. But why does Simon do it all? His drive and passion comes from helping other people have a better life.
“The year 2020 taught me to keep going and stay away from negative people,” said Simon, as he pointed out his many tattoos with affirming words and phrases: never give up, blessed, stay focused, believe, unbroken. “I work hard so I can help other people … that’s what brings me joy.”
No need for “joy” ink when his beaming smile checks that box. The rest of us may not have his rhythm, stage presence or even a desire to get our CDL; but if everyone carried a smile half the size of Simon’s, maybe we’d spread some of the joy he seeks.
EVENTS WITH ELEC