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Harry Belafonte, known as much for his civil rights activism as his singing and acting, spoke to the Associated Press and repeated similar remarks at the NAACP Image Awards, suggested the “voice” of Black leadership is absent from the discussion of gun violence.
“What really concerns me is the ingredients of the discourse,” then 85-year-old Belafonte said. “Where is that (in the Black) community? Where is that voice? I think the Black community, the Black leadership needs to stir it up.”
Stir it up the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam did long before Mr. Belafonte spoke.
Beginning in the summer of 2012 he personally led the men of the Nation of Islam (Fruit of Islam) into crime ridden and drug infested urban neighborhoods. At the height of this foray into the “streets” of America, the outreach included 109 cities.
Published by “Souls: A Critical Journal Of Black Politics, Culture, and Society,” Gabbidon wrote: “From reforming street criminals and convicts to its forays into private security and the transformative effects of the Million Man March we can learn much from the numerous efforts by the Nation of Islam to prevent crime in the African American community. With its earliest attempts, the organization cemented an image that it refused to give up on those African Americans at the lowest rungs of society. As such, it was able to show that everyone is salvageable. The formula was simple: Teach individuals about themselves, give them work opportunities, and continue to nourish their development physically, mentally, and spiritually.”
Min. Farrakhan, unlike other leaders, and his followers bring to urban America an empathetic ear. The Minister explains reasons why young, so-called hustlers are involved in illegal activity. Their actions are based on survival strategies and not knowing another way, he has said.
When the Minister brought the men of the N.O.I. into the ’hood, he brought “a product” that showed there is “another way.”
He once said in a discussion the product “we’re advertising” is not fish that the N.O.I. once sold. It’s the “fish (men and women) that was caught by God,” through the teachings of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, “scaled, cleaned (and) sent back into the community that’s dying,” he said.
Elijah Muhammad, “the eternal leader of the Nation of Islam,” he said, summed up what the men and women of the Nation, following his example, represented to urban America.
Elijah Muhammad, a divine man, once said of himself, that he was like “a piece of junk that God took off of the junk pile and polished up and put back on the junk pile, to show the other pieces of junk what they could become if they allowed him to teach them.”
Farrakhan called walks through the streets, the “first venture into the hood,” suggesting he and the Fruit of Islam were just getting started.
During a broadcast last year in the 58-part series “The Time And What Must Be Done,” the Minister spoke of the “pain and hurt of the inner city” residents he spoke with in Chicago neighborhoods. A feeling of hope and possibility would follow if President Obama “came into Chicago and met with those parents that have lost their children,” and then got “in [his] bully pulpit” and “preached to us as one that is truly compassionate,” Min. Farrakhan said.
Others, including Rev. Jesse Jackson and Father Michael Plfeger, have asked President Obama respond to the murder rate in Chicago that included the shooting of 15-year-old high school student Hadiya Pendleton, who performed during the president’s second inauguration.
Many Chicago residents asked President Obama to show the same empathy to his adopted hometown, and it’s spiraling out of control murder rate, that he showed by his attendance at a memorial service for the slain children of Newtown, Conn.
Mr. Obama responded initially through the First Lady, who attended the funeral of young Pendleton, but then came to Chicago himself and used his bully pulpit to highlight Chicago’s unique problems.
Though many gave the president praise for his trip to Chicago, the court is still out on what his coming to the crime- riddled city represented.
During the presidential race America’s poor received little or no mention. Race primary was primarily focused on the middle class. This has come to mean to many that since Blacks represent an increasingly disproportionate percentage of the poor in America, they along with poor Whites, have all but been abandoned.
“They’re at their wits end with the problem of Black people,” Min. Farrakhan said. And since the government has “no solution,” he said, “God dropped it at our foot.”
Part of the Nation of Islam’s belief involves the Biblical reference to the resurrection of the dead. Not a physical resurrection, according to “The Muslim Program,” as outlined on the inside back page of every edition of its weekly publication, “The Final Call,” but the mental, social, economic and spiritual resurrection of Black people.
Farrakhan says, “Today more than ever, people are more willing to accept the kind of change that makes them moral.”
The octogenarian recounting the 1970s and what led to the N.O.I. becoming a leading seller of frozen fish said, “It was when the men of the Nation (sold fish by) knocking on peoples doors.” He said the selling of fish “endeared the Fruit of Islam and the Nation to them because we brought them a product that they needed.”
The Minister asked, “What do they need more?” “They need the civilizing message of God and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. They need to find the path of love for one another and brotherhood.” If this occurs, he said, “Ninety-five percent of our problems would be solved.”
To buttress the N.O.I.’s outreach, Farrakhan has sat down with Christian pastors. He told pastors the Nation has taken the same Bible they “preach from” and produced upstanding citizens, willing to give back to their community. Many were once called the “dregs of society.” He said to the preachers, “I can show you how to do it, so you can make (these kind of people) in your church and expand.”
Why hasn’t the Nation’s program of self-help and social and spiritual uplift been adopted by the wider Black community?
According to Gabbidon, “While the success and failures of the organization (N.O.I.) were consistently noted in magazine and newspaper accounts, few social scientists considered its efforts worthy of scholarly examination.”
That the Nation’s miraculous work of rehabilitation hasn’t been merged with the wider Black community is something worthy of scholarly research. The fact that the group has been vilified in the press and historically been the subject of negative government activity, like COINTELPRO, means success has come despite opposition—not because of any support or simply allowing the Muslims to act unhindered.
According to the January 1993 edition of the Atlantic Monthly, the N.O.I.’s problem, in part stems from how its been perceived by others, notably Whites, which is largely the result of being viewed through the lens of a hostile press.
“Thus,” wrote Nicholas Leman, “Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam and a mentor of both Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan, was legendary among blacks as a proponent of traditional values, an opponent of drugs and alcohol, a nurturer of ghetto small businesses, and a savior of habitual criminals, prostitutes, and other hard-core members of the underclass—but he was perceived by the larger world … as a preacher of hatred.”
Tougher gun laws, as Obama is advocating and round-the-clock police presence as Chicago’s police superintendent was said to be planning, won’t rid urban America of moral and psychological decay, and the predatory actions of youth trying to survive.
Elijah Muhammad once said, don’t condemn a dirty glass, stand a clean glass next to it. The infectious nature of his message and the moral fiber and psychological stability that it instills represents the substance the Black community has hoped for, and the evidence it’s impatiently waiting to see.
Jehron Muhammad, who writes for The Final Call from Philadelphia, can be reached at Jehronn@msn.com. Follow him on Twitter: @JehronMuhammad.