I am a 58-year-old African American man from Hollis Queens, New York. I grew up in a typical lower middle class black neighborhood (the last white family moved out just as we were moving in). Soon after our family made our move into the neighborhood, the heroin epidemic hit.
When I was in the 8th grade some of my friends were already shooting heroin. Fortunately, I didn't fall into that trap because I was just too afraid. However, I must admit they did seem like the cool ones. Anyway, I grew up watching friends and family members die or go to jail because of this epidemic. Our street corner was, I believe, the number one corner in Queens for heroin. The block also shared a mosque, a rehab and a Steak and Take which was all owned and operated by the black Muslims. There was also a dry cleaners owned by the famous "American gangster" Frank Lucas, the dry cleaner was named Larry Lucas. The entire neighborhood quickly went downhill with the drug infestation. Our corner, 205 St. and Hollis Ave (now known as RunDMC Way) was a hotspot not only heroin but marijuana as well.
By the time I turned 15 or 16 I became an entrepreneur. I sold marijuana on that hot corner. I was always told to "stay off that f*cking corner" so I kept an eye out for not only the police but also for my dad. The only people who would take time to speak to us were the shiny men in bow ties were members of the Nation of Islam. Yes, I like most black Americans, grew up with guys pushing Muhammad Speaks newspapers and selling bean pies. These men were the only good inspiration that I, and many of the guys in the hood life, could relate to. I can guarantee that many of us are alive because of their inspiration.
A day I will never forget started with me putting on my alligator shoes and expensive silk and wool pants getting ready to hear the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan talk about black empowerment and self-love. This had a profound effect on me that continues to this day.
I always loved and respected the Nation's men in suits led by this powerful man. I remember going to Madison Square Garden with Rick Rubin (who wanted to tag along) and watching the Minister threaten the world after, if my memory serves me correctly, at least three Rainbow Coalition (led by Rev. Jesse Jackson) offices had been bombed or defaced.
I remember, as you probably do, the day Jesse Jackson ran for President and he made the horrible statement about "Hymie Town." Anyway since he had no secret service it was the FOI (Fruit of Islam, the Nation's private security firm) who protected him. I remember the Minister saying this was the "last black leader that America would kill while we, African Americans or G-d sat by". I think the threat was about G-d destroying America more than us erupting in violence.
I remember the conflict that began thirty years ago when FOI was securing Jesse Jackson and his office was firebombed. The Minster was I believe misquoted in the press as saying Judaism was a 'gutter religion". He has maintained, and we who love and support him have accepted, that he said those who engaged in this act of violence "guttered the religion". However, the damage was done. This statement followed him even to the point where it caused Congressman Peter King and the US government to ban them from the contracts securing our housing projects. We have never been as secure as we were when they were the forces that secured us.
Following this, one of the leaders of the the extremist organization, Jewish Defense League, was arrested because he set himself up outside my Def Jam office as a sniper and shot up my office on Varick Street in New York City in retaliation of Public Enemy's public support of the Nation of Islam.
I have been a witness to so much of the Nation's work. I have attended all of their marches from the Million Man March (which Harvard university says was attended by close to 2 million men) to the Million Family March where the headcount was smaller but looked the same from the podium and have followed their work all the way up to the most recent march in October which was the 20th anniversary of the first. Not surprisingly, it was not publicized or covered in the media but this didn't make it any less impactful. It was still one of the biggest Marches in the history of this country. Following the overwhelming response to the call of the Million Man March resulted in an additional 1.7 million Black men voting in the 1996 presidential elections; the rate of black adoptions rose; and many black men left with a sense of personal responsibility to develop their communities and helped to re-energize Christians churches along with other local and national organizations.
All the marches were not only peaceful but they all brought people to tears and asked the question -how can we as black people better ourselves? Seems like the people never even left a candy wrapper on the street. There was respect at these marches - respect for ourselves and for the world we live in. I say all this to paint a picture and echo a sentiment I know to be true: BLACK AMERICA LOVES THE NATION OF ISLAM. But at what cost?
Many people have lost their jobs for openly associating with the Nation. Arsenio Hall, after being warned, says his last straw was bringing the Minister on his talk show. Great Civil Rights activists such as Ben Chavis were told if the Minister stepped foot in the NAACP that he would be fired and he was. Being friends with the Minister has always been a litmus test on whether you are yourself suitable to partner with or befriend members of other communities (especially certain segments of the Jewish community). I have never worried about this since I am proudly and humbly probably the greatest African American supporter of fighting anti Semitism around the world. I have seen this disconnect and I realize if you mischaracterize leaders truthfully or untruthfully as haters, their followers become haters unto you. It is not a good strategy that has backfired on the ADL and does nothing more than spread the message of hatred. Similarly, I have said countless times that by calling every African American leader an anti Semite you create the very thing you are trying to combat. For example, Will Smith, Kanye West, Reverend Sharpton, Reverend Jackson, Martin Luther King and Andrew Young and countless others have received this label from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
As the Chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding it is my job to fight anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and all forms of bigotry and I have done so for close to 20 years. In fact, I once held a dinner over fifteen years ago that was to be attended by Reverend Jackson, Cornell West, Martin Luther King the Third, Ellie Wiesel, Allan Steinberg, Israel Singer and my partner Rabbi Schneier AND OF COURSE Farrakhan.
In the end, none on the Jewish side came except Rabbi Schneier. The dinner was relatively boring. It was basically two reverends talking about who came off the mountain at what time. The African American leaders desperately wanted this meeting to occur and traveled to be part of it. But the next day Minister Farrakhan spoke to the hip hop community at the first Hip Hop Summit (attended by Will Smith, Jay-Z, Puffy and countless artists and executives like Jermaine Dupri and Paul Rosenberg (Eminem's manager) who came to represent his client who was the hottest rapper of the moment. This time the media did cover the Minister's speech, with one line being the most publicized, "You guys ain't no gangsters but you are living under a gangster government". What else was new?
I guess it was ok time to be near him because the heads of the NAACP, Urban League, all the black city council and lots of politicians (some who were running for Mayor) came as well. That day the Minister quoted the Rabbi numerous times in his speech. He said to the rappers that words have no good effect unless they can be digested.
The purpose for this blog is to 1) explain why I love Louis Farrakhan namely because of the hundreds of thousands of black lives -including mine- that he has saved and 2) timing- now the ADL has new leadership and the old style of management is gone. I wonder if the new regime of the ADL can begin a new chapter. I support all the work they do and have enormous faith in them going forward. Can we/you take him up on his many requests for a meeting and begin a new chapter? I believe in the power of dialogue and of sameness and I believe that this request from me is one that every African American from President Obama to all the famous black intellectuals, to all the rap community would like to see take place.
I will close by saying that this blog was inspired by a letter published in the number one black news site yesterday in the country written by attorney sister Ava Muhammad. She has been his national spokesperson for the last 20 years (the same position Malcolm held to Elijah). I read her thoughtful letter and it reminds me that my job is about mending fences and the time has come for healing between a man who is by far the most influential black spiritual and civil rights leader of our time and the ADL, which has always worked hard to protect and serve the Jewish community. This is simple. Let's get this done.
With great love, all things are possible