Family and friends from all walks of life gathered for the Janazah (funeral) service for Brother Ansar El Muhammad at Cleo Parker Robinson Dance on August 30, 2023. Among the attendees were the former mayor of Denver, the Honorable Wellington Webb and his wife, Wilma. Mama Cleo, the founder, artistic director, and choreographer of the 50-year-old Denver-based artistic institution, welcomed everyone to the center and reminded everyone how valuable and precious Brother Ansar’s presence was to the center.
“This is Ansar’s house and he would be here capturing each one of you,” she said. “Ansar was always there when he knew you needed him and not when he needed you. He always made our presence known when he was present and he always had his camera with him.”
Mama Cleo continued: “Brother Ansar reminded me of brother Malcolm and the Honorable Minister (Louis Farrakhan). They all had an affectionate smile, and you could not help but smile when he smiled.”
African drums helped lift the spirit of those attending the Janazah service. There was poetry, song and various speakers including family that made the two-hour celebration a joyous occasion. Friends and family recollected and shared their memories of Brother Ansar and the impact he had on the community as an activist, father, grandfather and photographer. The shock of Brother Ansar’s untimely death was not expected and was felt throughout the city.
He was the chief photographer for the Denver Weekly Newspaper and a contributing photographer for The Final Call newspaper. The Denver Weekly News featured a cover story on Brother Ansar. They honored his work and compared it to one of their great photographers, Mr. Burnis McCloud, “with his exceptional talent he was often likened to Denver’s renowned photographer Burnis McCloud (1908-1990).”
There was a vigil held at Jeff Fard’s Cultural Center and a memorial at the Nation of Islam’s Study Group the following Sunday after his passing. Student Minister Herman Muhammad reflected on the commitment and example of Ansar to him as a Muslim in the community of Denver.
“I will miss Brother Ansar most because, to me, he was the epitome of what it is to be a follower of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan,” Student Minister Herman said. “He was always engaged in the first work, which is the resurrection of the mentally dead people. … He literally taught and trained me as a young Muslim of how to go into homeless shelters, trap houses and the worst parts of our community and bring people out and take them to the mosque meeting.”
Lenora Alexander, a close friend and companion to Brother Ansar, shared with the audience how special her experiences were with him. She jokingly talked about how Brother Ansar never wanted to be photographed and the challenge the family had finding pictures for the slideshow presentation.
“I spent 1,250 weeks with Ansar and over 4,000 events with him, and he wanted to document everyone in the community, and he did,” Ms. Alexander said. “We went through over 300,000 photos to find pictures of Ansar. We wanted you to see him and it was a struggle, even Artificial Intelligence could not find him it was that hard.”
A well-known spoken word artist in Denver named Lady Speech encouraged everyone to carry on Brother Ansar’s attitude and love for each other, and the least of the community.
“You were safe at Jeff’s cultural center; you were welcomed there,” she said. “All of you were celebrated here; all of you were lifted up there. If you were homeless, if you were a gangbanger, no matter what you were, he made you feel safe. He gave us safety. He gave every part of himself … do the same.”
She continued: “Ansar was a quiet giant, a Black man, he poured his life into every last one of us in this community. He always sought out people in need. That man gave the best of what he had every second of life he had. He never asked for money and never sought fame. He was always a quiet presence. A living legend of goodness.”
The community came out to give their final respects as Brother Ansar was laid to rest.
“Brother Ansar’s coffin was put on a horse-drawn carriage and carried down Welton Street in the historic Five Points neighborhood, where he grew up and did his community work,” Student Minister Herman Muhammad said. “Onlookers and neighbors came out and saluted as the carriage made its way down the street to the awaiting hearse that would take him to his final resting place.”
A special thanks to MiDian Z. Holmes Luckett for live-streaming the entire service on Jeff Fard’s Facebook page.