From left, WMC-TV anchor and town hall moderator Kelli Cook, Memphis Police Chief C.J. Davis and Nation of Islam Student Minister Muthakkir Muhammad.

MEMPHIS—More than 150 people flocked to the New Olivet Worship Center for the second installment of a series of town halls initiated by Police Chief C.J. Davis to garner community partnership to address the rise of crime in Memphis.

In the first three months of 2023, Memphis police had already reported 81 murders and a 43 percent increase in major property crimes, along with increases in rape, aggravated assault and robbery, with more than 70 percent of violent crimes now involving guns. By early June, nearly 7,000 cars had been stolen, a 150 percent increase from last year.

The “Critical Conversations: Young Faith Leaders,” town hall, held June 29, focused on root causes with practical solutions, mainly aimed at youth. Hosted by Pastor Kenneth T. Whalum and moderated by WMC5 TV reporter and anchor Kelli Cook, panelists included: Police Chief C.J. Davis; Mid-South Representative of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, Student Minister Muthakkir Muhammad;

Brother Malik Shah, the Midtown Mosque; Apostle Tony Wade, Divine Life Church and Repairing the Breach; Rev. Kenya Gray, First Baptist Broad; Rev. Courtney Taylor and Rev. Kristen Cheers, New Olivet Worship Center; Pastor Marron Thomas, Innovator Church and the Leadership Empowerment Center; Pastor Donte Parnell, Holy Impact Empowerment Center, Hip Hop Artist and Radio Personality; and Sr. Pastor Marlon Bradford, Philadelphia Baptist Church.


Throughout the course of the evening, panelists identified core areas that they felt were some of the root causes that are leading to the uptick in crime among youth such as a lack of respect for them and understanding their world perspective; some key failures within the educational system in preparing students for life as opposed to just “passing them along;” lack of proper parental guidance and involvement; negative influence from peers and media, and showing them better opportunities outside of their current situation, along with some practical solutions.

Panelists address attendees during a “Critical Conversations: Young Faith Leaders,” town hall held June 29 in Memphis. Student Minister Muhammad speaks as Chief Davis and Rev. Kenya Gray, on right, listen to his remarks.

Rev. Kenya Gray pointed out how the current generation has grown up in a very different world and reality, which has a role in shaping their attitude of fearlessness and why the approach to them must reflect that. She expressed how teens who are now 16, were playing games such as Grand Theft Auto at young ages—emphasizing that it was the parents who gave them the games. “So now they’ve grown up into our world and that world is their reality.

So, they do lack a fear,” Rev. Gray stated. “In the game world, there is no true consequence. The mission is to kill and the assignment is to steal. That’s the mission of the games and so in the real world when you put these kids—and I’m going to say us, because I grew up playing Grand Theft Auto too, right, when you put us in the real world, all we have is this—what we played.

That’s our natural response. As a preacher, as a faith leader, I strive to instill in young people, choice and option of an alternative reality, of an alternative hope and to ensure that they understand that there’s a choice and what you have seen does not have to be what you choose to do,” Rev. Gray added.

“What we’re trying to do with our church is that everything that the schools took out—from art to home ec[onomics] to all of these things that you don’t learn anymore in school—We’ve got to put that back into the church. So now, it’s up to the church to teach those practical life things that equip young people to be a quality citizen in a community.”

Student Minister Muthakkir Muhammad implored the audience to recognize that youth are not the problem, they are victims of a problem in a society in which ignorance is big business. “The Grand Theft Auto [game], there is somebody inventing that and somebody selling that to our children. Many parents are buying these. So, we are bringing the standard home.” He continued, “So the parents, now, the standard has been lowered in our home because we don’t know.”

He also stressed the importance of how we speak to young people. “God is deposited in all of our children. If we would speak to the God in them and quicken that part of them; all of us have that in us. So, when we talk to them, they are looking for that kind of respect.”

Additionally, Student Minister Muthakkir Muhammad advised a method that is used in the Nation of Islam, when opening houses of worship to teach the youth. “One of the things, if we open up our church houses, just remember, the way you teach a woman, is not the same way you teach a man. So, some of those classes will have to be separate where you have classes for boys and classes for girls because the way you teach them is different.

When you integrate them, then ego gets involved and now if I try to straighten a young man out because girls are around, he’s got to show out because the girls want to see him. But if I take that away, when I speak to him it’s relevant; same way with young ladies. So, in the mosque we have classes, some are for men and some are for women and we teach into those things that you are talking about, but we separate them.”

Twenty-three-year-old Nazareth shared his takeaway from the event with The Final Call. “Making Christianity, or faith, anything positive, cool once again is the alternative because they’re so attracted to things that are negative right now and it seems to be so cool and so popular. Until we change the mindset and culture of our people, we’ll never change our world,” Nazareth said.

“It’s refreshing to see that there’s so many people in the room and that we are talking about root causes, because if we can get to the root causes then we won’t have to worry about having to have 2,500 police officers in our community when we deal with some of the root causes,” concluded Chief Davis.