“Tuskegee is the seminal fluid of the Kingdom of God.”
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan
TUSKEGEE, Ala.—In this historic Black community in the deep South where murders of innocent Black people by Whites was common during slavery and the Jim Crow era, a movement has taken root to stem the tragic murders of Black people by Black people resulting from the self-hatred vestiges of slavery.
Called the “The War On Murder Begins” (WOMB), the movement marries agriculture and the Atonement process to honor the slain as well as give relief to grieving mothers and families.
On this sunny May 1st afternoon, on the 19th day of Ramadan, mothers of the slain and city officials gathered in the shadows of the Ridgewood projects for the second Atonement event to plant a fruit tree in the name of their loved one and tell their stories.
“Part of our atonement for allowing murder to thrive in our community includes helping families torn apart by the killing of their loved ones,” explained Scott Muhammad, co-founder with his wife Erica of the WOMB. “We combined our agriculture work with a program addressing the origin, source and cause of murder and the installation of an edible park called the Atonement Memorial Garden.”
The garden is a 5,000 square foot space cultivated by children that, once finished, will be enclosed by interlocking fruit trees that surround other fruits and vegetables growing inside. The garden will also serve as a “quiet space” for spiritual reflection and as food security for the community.
“This is my first step towards acceptance,” said Tracy Shepard, 38, mother of Antuane Daniel, who was shot eight times in 2019. “I never sat down and talked to anybody about how I felt. I feel I can breathe better today. I feel a sense of peace.”
“What hurts the worst was the people who took her had been out since early that morning bothering other kids,” said April Thomas of Birmingham, mother of Kamille “Cupcake” McKinney, a three-year-old who was abused, drugged and murdered after being abducted from a birthday party.
“I tell people to be aware of their surroundings. Don’t get too comfortable. Things happen so fast. I never thought something like this would happen to me.”
Carolyn Whittaker and Cynthia Harris wore t-shirts with the image of Antwan Whitaker, Carolyn’s 30-year-old son who was shot in April 2020. Cynthia’s daughter was Antwan’s girlfriend and father of two of her children.
Ms. Whitaker spoke of her “good days and bad days” since Antwan’s death. At times she wakes up looking for him.
“I just hope that justice is served in my favor. I want them sentenced for what they did,” she said of the two suspects arrested for the murder.
The program began with a prayer from Imam Abdullah Mustafa Ali of the Tuskegee Islamic Community followed by libations poured by Rev. Jacquetta Parhams and City Councilwoman Norma McGowen Jackson, who read the names of 75 victims killed in Tuskegee since 2000. There was music by guitarist Zephyr Embers and songs by the Tuskegee Golden Voices choir.
“Usually, we think of ancestors as older people. Now we have baby ancestors,” Rev. Parhams said.
“I was saddened to see how many names were on the list,” added councilwoman Jackson. “To see classmates of mine and children I taught in school was just mind-boggling.”
Looking on in the audience were Macon County Sherriff Andre Brunson, Tuskegee Police Chief Loyd Jenkins, whose department compiled the list of the slain, and other city and county officials.
Mr. Muhammad told the crowd that murder travels on four legs—economic exploitation, miseducation, sexual perversity, and improper diets. He spoke of how scraps of food that are thrown away become the strongest fertilizer. Some people write off young people as trash, he said, adding he will prove that beyond the grave they have power to fertilize our community and make us better.
“But we have to go into a relationship with them,” he said.
The book of Malachi speaks of the Lord turning the hearts of the fathers to the children and the children to their fathers lest the earth be struck with a curse, he said. If we turn to one another, then we have what’s necessary to lift the curse off our community, he said.
Allen Deese and Eddie Stinson of the Wildlife Group then demonstrated the proper way to plant and prune a tree and helped the mothers honor their loved ones.
How it all began
Mr. Muhammad began mapping murders in Chicago while working with civil rights icon Rev. James L. Bevel. He worked on Rev. Bevel’s farm school program SEED (Students for Education and Economic Development) in Pembrooke, Ill., and helped to organize a Chicago gang truce where former gang members “who once sold dope now were selling tomatoes and green peppers.”
In 2010, Mr. Muhammad moved to Eutaw, Ala., to establish a farm school program for children at an Apostolic church. While in Eutaw, the Muhammads developed a food security initiative that engages school students to produce food security for their communities and involve farmers to build capacity.
In 2012, they moved to Tuskegee at the invitation of civil rights matriarch Amelia Boynton Robinson and successfully presented the program to the Macon County Board of Education.
But after hitting a few roadblocks and after Mr. Muhammad became very ill, the couple moved to Ridgewood, the city’s largest and most violent housing complex where they thought they would stay a few months and move on.
“But we saw all these children here and set up our program,” he said.
After a spate of murders and witnessing a few personally, the Muhammads decided to have the children participate in developing the Atonement Memorial Garden.
Mr. Muhammad’s team identified 57 murder victims and invited many of them to the first Grand Planting event in 2019 where the first shovels of dirt for the Memorial Garden were dug.
In addition to the annual plantings and memorial events, the program involves children planting, harvesting and selling their goods. There is also a character development aspect to the program.
“My position is if the children participate in the atonement then they have to get recompense from God. I believe this is a way they can participate in saving their own lives. We’re working, we’re selling, we’re donating. God has to recognize that,” he said.
(For information or to support Atonement Memorial Garden effort, visit www.seedincorporated.com)