CHICAGO—The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) dismissed a celebrated Black, Muslim principal from his position at a prestigious selective enrollment South Side high school without due process last spring, advocates charge. And as 2024 begins, he is continuing to fight for justice not just for himself but for others.
Supporters argue Abdul Muhammad—who was not even afforded the right of knowing what the charges were before being released—is being railroaded and unfairly targeted for his ethics, good works and religion.
In the current CPS structure, teachers and other staff have the union that protects their rights, but principals have very little job security and often get dismissed without due process. Last year alone, many Black principals appear to have been pushed out without an opportunity to neither voice their grievances nor address their accusers.
Despite the odds and opposition, the former two-time Golden Apple award nominee and 2003 Teacher of the Year refuses to bow down under pressure and vows to continue to fight for what is right, not only for him, but for other Black principals similarly targeted.
The Final Call reported in 2023 how Abdul Muhammad was targeted by CPS administration and Lindblom staff despite his success at other schools.
“I was removed from the principalship at Lindblom Math and Science Academy in March of 2023 based on false allegations from seven White teachers,” he said as he then pointed out a broader issue: “Chicago Public Schools are attacking successful Black educators. I did not do anything wrong,” Abdul Muhammad said. “From the day I walked into Lindblom … it’s been a witch hunt against me.”
An impeccable track record
Before Mr. Muhammad, students at Frederick Douglass Academy High School on Chicago’s West Side in the Austin community had few enrichment programs and a 61 percent graduation rate.
After Mr. Muhammad, students benefited from a state-of-the-art Virtual Reality Lab, a budding partnership with the Illinois Institute of Technology, a music studio, a film studio, a social-emotional recreational program space, and an 82 percent graduation rate, supporters pointed out.
Before arriving at Nancy B. Jefferson High School, securely situated inside the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, students from different gangs and ethnicities could not be brought together for a joint assembly. They did for the first time ever while Abdul Muhammad was there.
For the first time, students in the detention center began graduating from high school. Mr. Muhammad brought the enormously popular Broadway stage play “Hamilton” to Jefferson. The only other time the play has been performed off stage was at the White House.
Before Abdul Muhammad arrived at Percy Julian High School, students endured regular fights, robberies, and gang activity; they could not earn college credit, and their graduation rate was 63 percent. After Mr. Muhammad, the behavioral chaos subsided, the graduation rate grew to 76 percent, and students were graduating high school with enough college credits to earn an associate degree,
Abdul Muhammad has created several signature events that he hosts at his schools that boost student morale, encourage communication skills and development of artist athletic skills such as the Artists vs DJ’s, Battle Rap Contest since 2002, 3-Point Contest and Slam Dunk Contest.
Abdul Muhammad has also taught at George Westinghouse College Prep, Simeon Career Academy, and Chicago Vocational High School, where he also regularly took students to not only Chicago area museums but both the Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. “I always took my students to college fairs, Great America, museums and upscale restaurants,” said Mr. Muhammad.
He has left an impressive track record of service, often going above and beyond his duties to create events and activities that foster trust, pride and accountability among him and his students. “Shout out to my high school professor (Abdul Muhammad) who introduced me to the knowledge of self that helped turn my life around,” said Dominique Rutledge.
“I grew more intellectually in six weeks of Saturday school with Mr. Abdul Muhammad as a teacher than I did in two and a half years at Simeon Career Academy,” said Von Boyson on his Facebook page.
Instead of being supported by CPS in his new role at Lindblom, his accomplishments are ignored by faculty and alumni, supporters say.
In a short period of time, Principal Muhammad’s impact on Lindblom was profound, transforming the school environment within his first year. Supporters hailed his efforts in reducing school violence, increasing school spirit, and implementing effective policies for the betterment of teachers and staff.
He built strong relationships with students, parents, community organizers, and local businesses, earning praise for his dedication to Lindblom’s success.
Muhammad exposes malfeasance
The turmoil at Lindblom intensified as investigations exposed financial discrepancies, inadequate oversight, and instances of student endangerment within the athletic department. Athletic Director Christina Davis, the self-described “ringleader” seeking to remove Mr. Muhammad, faced increased scrutiny for alleged incompetence and questionable actions, raising concerns about the overall management of the school.
Abdul Muhammad’s outspokenness has helped reveal a CPS pattern of targeting Black principals, particularly Black men, throughout the city. According to WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times, only eight percent of CPS principals are Black men, but 70 percent of principals targeted for removal are Black men.
“They really don’t have these children’s best interests at heart,” said Abdul Muhammad’s wife, Niambi Muhammad, who has been standing by his side the entire time. “He has sacrificed all these years. I’ve been at home, you know, sacrificing in my own way, but he goes out every day and to know what he’s dealt with is just heartbreaking.”
Abdul Muhammad was released after a handful of White teachers leveled a volley of unchallenged accusations last spring revealing a system that is failing Chicago’s Black youth and suppressing and removing dynamic Black educators.
“I have receipts that prove these allegations to be false,” said Abdul Muhammad. The decision to remove Principal Muhammad, tainted by allegations of cronyism and racism, sparked widespread outrage and calls for a thorough investigation
into the practices of CPS.
A CPS spokesperson did not address Abdul Muhammad’s claims, citing confidentiality for “personnel matters or ongoing investigations.”
“The district has procedures in place to investigate allegations of staff misconduct, give proper due process to its employees and make fair employment decisions. We are confident in the decisions made by the leaders of our District,” a spokesperson said in a statement. Investigations into allegations of misconduct take time, and the district is committed to “allowing an investigation to proceed without disruption,” the spokesperson said.
“As a district, we remain committed to our core values, which include creating and maintaining a safe, equitable work environment, free of harassment, bias, or harm of any kind,” the CPS spokesperson said in the statement. “Speculation and finger pointing about a personnel matter undermines District processes and the integrity of team members dedicated to the well-being and success of our CPS students, families, and colleagues.”
Meanwhile, Abdul Muhammad had to sue to get CPS to release the 83 allegations leveled over a seven-month period and was removed before the investigation even started. “There is no due process,” said Mr. Muhammad, whose removal sparked concern nationwide.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump accused CPS of a “pattern and practice of discrimination against Black principals.” A news conference, attended by prominent figures like Father Michael Pfleger, Troy LaRaviere, and members of the Nation of Islam, demanded investigations and systemic changes within CPS last summer.
“We’re not attacking CPS; we’re just elevating the things that we need to continue to build upon,” said Atty. Crump.
An ongoing fight for what is right
Others who have lent their support to Abdul Muhammad include NAACP President-South & West Side Rose Joshua (South) and Carl Brinson (West); State Senator Willie Preston; State Senator Sonya Harper; State Representative Kam Buckner; State Representative Mary Flowers;
State Representative Camille Lilly; Father Larry Dowling, St. Agatha Parish; Pastor John Harrell, Black Men United; Alderman Ronnie Mosley (21st Ward); Alderman David Moore (17th Ward); Alderwoman Stephanie Coleman (16th Ward); Coalition of African American Leaders (COAL); South Side CAC (Community Action Council); and Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church.“
All the educational research points to the fact that Black students do better with Black teachers in front of them and Black administrators leading,” said Abdul Muhammad to The Final Call, who also often discusses the need to stop the school-to-prison pipeline. “You have a group of students who, when they don’t get certain skills by the third grade, will end up in prison.”
Furthermore, Black youth comprise 36 percent of CPS but account for up to 61 percent of the 19,799 school suspensions in 2021. Even more troubling, Black children account for 63 percent of the 2,244 school referrals to police.
Criminality is disproportionately associated with Black children in Chicago, and it is driving children into the criminal justice system at alarming rates. In 2017, CPD arrested over 8,000 minors, according to research presented by a group of Illinois Black legislators.
“For those who argue that the school-to-prison pipeline is not real, these numbers don’t lie,” said civil rights attorney Julian Johnson in his blog. “As a Chicago civil rights and police misconduct lawyer, I’ve seen firsthand how our youth are under attack from a system that fails to invest in them and spares no expense to incarcerate them.
Chicago Public Schools spends $4,397 per year to educate a single student while Illinois spends $38,000 per year to incarcerate a single inmate And if you haven’t guessed it already, African Americans make up over 50 percent of Illinois’ prison population, despite accounting for 15 percent of the state’s population. It’s clear where the priorities are in Illinois when it comes to Black youth.”
Education is vital to each individual’s life chances and the quality of society as a whole, explained the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam in his book, “A Torchlight for America,” published in 1993. “If America does not wake up and recognize the consequence of perpetuating the current system of education then the country’s fate is sealed.
Education is supposed to be the proper cultivation of gifts and talents of the individual through the acquisition of knowledge. Knowledge satisfies our natural thirst for gaining that which will make us one with our Maker,” wrote the Minister.
The aforementioned statistics reveal an education system in Chicago headed in the wrong direction.
Minister Farrakhan has expressed his support of Abdul Muhammad.
“Every step that you have made in educating the worst people and making them the best, you are proving in your life that the message of Elijah Muhammad is a message of repair,” said the Minister in a conversation with Abdul Muhammad. Black principals who are doing something about the “wayward” youth in Chicago should take the lead and be given resources and support, advocates argue.
Gerald Morrow, an educator for over 32 years, was removed from Dunbar Vocational High School only citing “mismanagement.” However, under his leadership, Dunbar’s enrollment rose from 230 to nearly 500 students through collaborative efforts with the Local School Council (LSC) and the community, which resulted in the reintroduction of various programs. Partnering with a barber college, they reestablished programs and constructed a music studio and an aviation program, providing opportunities for student success.
“Our children are going to these unions and these apprentice programs, but they can’t pass the assessment because they are two or three years below in math,” Gerald Morrow said recently on the Munir Muhammad Show hosted by Mandene Muhammad. A year later, Mr. Morrow still does not know what he was accused of mismanaging.
Even after the unfair treatment, Mr. Morrow is focused on the children. “We don’t look at this as an attack on CPS, we look at this as a situation where we are all a part of this and if there’s anything going on then we all should be coming to a space where we can authentically discuss what has happened so we can make it better for everybody involved. We’re just elevating the things that we need to continue to build upon to continue to go forward,” he said.
“You have Black educators that are in the schools every day. When brother came to Dunbar it was already a school to prison pipeline. He put in a barbering program. That’s another pathway. He put in a cosmetology program where they graduate with a license in cosmetology.
What Chicago Build (a CPS promoted program) was offering was a certificate. So that’s the play Chicago Build will give you a certificate, but you can’t get a job with that. But when you are a licensed plumber, a licensed electrician, a licensed cosmetologist;
Now you can leave high school and get a job, but the first thing they did when our brother was removed was remove those pathways. And the only thing they left at Dunbar was the school to prison pipeline that was there before he got there,” said Abdul Muhammad.
Both men express a desire to collaborate with Mayor Brandon Johnson (who has yet to address the issue) and work toward a common goal of improving education for Black children in Chicago. Incidentally, both principals, before being removed, were actively working to increase the number of Black men in education at CPS.
“I’m proud to have him as my father. I’m proud to have him as the man in my life as an idol. … I really do believe that this battle is not just a battle for my father, the Black principals and CPS here in Chicago. It’s really a battle against Satan and his world. And I really do believe that my father is being used as a martyr in this scenario where he is taking the brunt of this persecution.
But through this, it’s going to change and bring about change across the CPS child public school system across the country and really will change education and how it’s proceeding to the world,” said his son, Abdul Karriem Muhammad.
For more information visit www.justiceforabdulmuhammad. com. Visit www.finalcall. com and read the following articles: “Cronyism, racism taint the decision to remove stellar principal from prominent Chicago high school,” “Calls for investigations grow at Chicago high school,” and “Public pressure mounts for investigation into CPS treatment of Black principals.”