TAMPA BAY, Fla. (FinalCall.com) – The Nation of Islam’s commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the 1995 Million Man March marked several key firsts for the city as well as the Muslim movement. It was the first time the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan visited the area and the first time a Nation of Islam convention was hosted here.
Min. Farrakhan, who led the Million Man March, chose Tampa for the historic celebration to help renew the pledge of atonement, reconciliation and responsibility, and to honor the hard work and dedication of Muslims in the Florida cities of Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater.
“The Minister coming to Tampa and blessing us by allowing us to host this Holy Day of Atonement is the turning point of this city, this area, and in fact the state and the world. Because from this platform, where so much evil is being waged against the world, the Minister is calling to account the great forces that are behind the forces that we see that are manipulating the kings, the rulers, the presidents, and he’s calling the real enemy, the real Satan, out and to account, so this is extremely significant and a great blessing from Allah through the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan,” said Student Minister James Muhammad, of Tampa.
Tampa is the command headquarters for every war ever prosecuted in the Middle East, and it is where the statistics that speak negatively of Black people top the scales, he continued.
According to Min. Farrakhan, religious leaders told him Black children in Tampa make up 41 percent of school expulsions, yet are 15 percent of the school population. High school dropout rates translate into high rates of incarceration and the prison population statewide consists of more than 100,000 inmates, more than half of them Black, he added.
Jihad Amos Muhammad was one among those ensnared in the criminal justice system. He grew up in a rough housing project and lost his brother and several friends to violence. He described the plight of Black youth in his community, especially males, as the same today as it was for him when he was sent to the state penitentiary as a 15-year-old. He was given a 27 year sentence, which was later reduced to a 10 year sentence with three years mandatory incarceration. He served nine and a half years.
“When in prison I studied a lot of things, especially Islam as my foundation … I used that to reach out to those who were also undergoing the same atrocities that I went through,” he said. He has worked in the spirit of the Million Man March to help save other young men like himself by creating BYC, Build Your Community, an organization that helps to end rivalries between so-called gang members, and bring them together.
That is what the Million Man March was about, said Ray Tampa, president of the NAACP in St. Petersburg. He lectures to youth in schools and speaks across the area to organizations and at community events. Every time, Mr. Tampa said, he brings the spirit and the message of the Million Man March.
“We can’t afford to lose anymore of our kids. We’ve lost too many to gang violence, drug involvement, violence period. We’ve lost too many to school dropouts, to the jail cells. We have to do whatever is necessary to stem the tide of losing our kids,” he told the audience at the Tampa Convention Center Oct. 17 before Min. Farrakhan’s main address.
According to community activist Connie Burton, the impact of the Nation of Islam’s presence in Tampa Bay is connected to the relationship between the movement and organizations within the community. That relationship is based on a long history of the Nation’s willingness to stand up, speak out, and help guide the community on key issues that many traditional leaders shy away from, she said.
“In this city, we’re living under police containment and the presence of a police state. Every political leader in this state has ran up their professional career based off the way in which they can entrench the African with the most brutal pain and punishment but the Minister told us today that those days are over with because we understand the game and it’s not based on because we’re bad or have done anything wrong. But it’s based off a policy of hate and that’s what we’re going to overturn,” Ms. Burton said. She was also a speaker prior to Min. Farrakhan’s message to thousands.
Under the local leadership of the Nation of Islam, the community in Tampa has been able to move forward on a consistent basis and build a bridge of support “but the Minister coming here today, what it meant for me is that I’m not working alone. I’m working in the spirit of a great man that has been given the vision and the power to lead our people without the cowardice that we’ve seen in so many of our leaders and I’m so grateful that I was asked to play just a small part of being in the presence of the Minister,” she continued.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan for his sacrifices and what he has done and is doing not only for the poor Black man and woman of America and suffering Black people all around the world but his contribution to the reformation and resurrection of the human being,” said Student Minister Ishmael Muhammad, Min. Farrakhan’s national assistant, who is based at Nation of Islam headquarters in Chicago.
During a phone interview with The Final Call, Rev. Dr. Tom Scott, a Tampa city councilman and mayoral candidate, said that from an economic standpoint, Min. Farrakhan’s visit and the turnout it generated was good for the city–and the experience also built on positives generated from the Million Man March.
He said he reiterated in a welcoming letter to Min. Farrakhan that as a result of the Million Man March, there was an increase in terms of Black males participating in organizations, the NAACP, churches, mosques, and that helped to highlight the plight of the Black family.
Dr. Scott said he is running for mayor because he believes he’s most qualified, and because he feels he can help the city as a whole and improve life in the Hillsborough community. He wants to create new jobs and economic development and ensure that everyone has an opportunity to do business with the city.
Rev. Scott represents District 5, which is 20 percent Black, and considered one of the poorest areas in the city.
Tampa’s incarceration numbers reflect a national crisis, however, the number one issue for people of color there is the same across the country as well, and that is job creation, he said. “Not only job creation but also the opportunity to be able to get those jobs … . People want a level playing field,” Rev. Scott said.
Julia Jackson, a contributing reporter for the Florida Sentinel Bulletin, a Black-owned newspaper in Tampa, said that although she was to cover Min. Farrakhan’s address, she had reservations about coming. It was her first time seeing Min. Farrakhan in person, but it will not be her last she said.
“I was spellbound, just by him walking into the room. It was like more than an authority had walked in, and the fact that he’s so humble, that’s what I was so shocked about. It was the quoting of the scriptures, and the fact that it wasn’t all what we were taught of how he is, hatred, killing, death, hates White people, only loves us. That’s all I ever heard about him, but now, I have a totally different outlook,” Ms. Jackson said.