January 3, 1992
Urban League's Annual Conference entitled, "African American Males, an Endangered Species": Part 1
Imam W. Deen Mohammed
Minneapolis, MN - The lively question and answer session after Imam W. Deen Mohammed's opening address at the Minneapolis Urban League on December 6, 1991 is here presented:
Q: From my experiences and reflections it has led me to believe that the fuel that drives America is derived from the exploitation of people domestically and internationally. If so, then it is necessary for us not only to seek positions of power but to seek to change the agenda of this country. Otherwise we will have our best and brightest working to further our own oppression. My question is, if you agree with this, what changes to this country's agenda should those of us in power seek?
IWDM: The changes needed in this country's agenda is a big order. If we could make change in America's agenda, I think we would be right in agreement with most of you that more attention needs to be given to bettering the life of the American people. This needs more attention and more money and starting right with the homes and schools and education. We need good living conditions in the form of good affordable homes. We need improvements for our system of education and to have opportunities for all that qualify, whether they have the money or not. We have a lot of small countries that are
guaranteeing higher education with room and board to any student who qualifies in that country. So we are with you and would ask for the same changes that the Urban League would ask for.
Q: Part of my concern is with how you mentioned some people will be referred to as "uncle toms". From the outside looking in, how do we distinguish someone who is operating in our own interest from those who are just following the same agenda with just a black face?
IWDM: There are many ways to recognize them. If there are people who are not really close to me, like my mother and father (although they are no longer living), my sisters and brothers, wife and children, except for that few who are close to me as family, when other people address me, I don't like for them to address my heart or my emotions and bypass my intelligence. I think that is a good way to identify those who are not sincere or not really having our best interest at heart. When they start addressing our emotions and our heart and are bypassing our intelligence, then something is wrong.
Some of us think the heart is more intelligent than the brain, but we can have foolish hearts.
Q: Before you mention that in order to concentrate on being competitive in an ever changing world, we need to invest our time and resources in the best of our people. I would like for you to comment on some ways or some solutions you may have in dealing with the worst of our people, who are headless or who don't think. What do we do with those people? Do we stereotype them? Or do we concentrate on mainstreaming those people to make them more productive members of our society?
IWDM: I always try to measure up to what my religion asks of me, and my religion asks the same thing of me that most of the great religions ask of their adherents. That is, that we try to be as sincere with none relatives as we are with our own children, with our own brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers in our homes. That is what we have to do. For these people who have problems, the best thing we can do is be straight with them. Be sincere; do not deceive them; don't exploit their diseases or their handicaps or their miseries. Don't make a business on their problems. To be sincere and to help them is the best thing we can do.
Q: I am sixteen, and I would like to know how people my age will be able to regain our sense of hope, our sense of meaning, and what is our place in society?
IWDM: How we can regain our sense of hope is also a big requisition. We believe that the consequences of all actions depend upon the nature of the intention. Make our intention right and encourage others to purify their intention. I think most of our problems are internal now; they are not external. They are multiplying externally because we are becoming more and more deficient internally. I am sounding like a priest or preacher or minister to you all the time, for that is where I see the answer. I am giving you the best that I can see.
If we want to have a better situation in this world, to improve our spiritual state where we will be more hopeful and more prepared to meet the challenges out here in the world, I think we need to do a little soul searching and make sure that we are internally strong. Let us purify our intentions. What else can we do? We can talk more on the "up" notes and less on the "down" notes. We can do more preaching of hope and a little bit less preaching of doom, and the result will be rise in hope.
Q: I'm an African American male, and we have a problem in this state (Minnesota) as far as racism. I know it is all over America, but we have a big problem up here. I am trying to figure out what is the best way to solve that problem that we have in this state?
IWDM: If I was a blind follower of the prophets of Afrocentricity, I would probably say, "Let's call a séance, and see who we can contact..." But since I don't have much faith in making that kind of connection, I will just leave it up to you. I hope you keep thinking about it.
Q: Education is supposed to give us a step ahead, if we are successful in education. We cannot get our leaders to give us a positive direction, and know that we did not get it before we got out of school.
IWDM: I am aware and I'm in support of what you are saying. Just like the young men are a vanishing species, also our black leaders are a vanishing species. We need people to be straight with us.
Q: If a child or a young black male grows up in an urban type society, when the child starts to understand what is around him and what is in his environment at the age of six or earlier— and when that child has grown up around violence and drugs and gangs, eventually that child is going to become a product of his society. That then perpetuates him into a certain state of mind. What can we do? It will be well that we reinforce the history of our people, but it is a frame of mind that you have been in for fifteen years and is very hard to get out of. What can we do to get brothers out of this state of mind? I'm speaking from my references and my experiences. If I see my little brother and sister hungry, regardless to how many righteous brothers tell me to not go and sell drugs, I am going to get my family something to eat regardless. The first law of nature is self preservation, the preservation of myself. What can we do to get brothers out of this state of mind?
IWDM: I wish you were my son. Again, that is a very big order and we have to do something about it. We are working on it. The Urban League and many of us are all working on the problem. I read in the flight magazine on the way here from Chicago about a young man in Louisiana in his mid thirties who had no children of his own and was now working with youth with problems of the severity you are talking about. The mayor and city leaders and church leaders have all recognized this young man for his works.
When I mentioned us having a good relationship with nature and with the land and with growing things, I was thinking at that time of the best life that we had from the south. My mother and father were southern people. The relationship that we have with our children back in the home is where we need to start. There are many things we can do to save these children that we have right now from that situation in the street. We need more women and men like the one in New Orleans who will look at these children as their own children and will love them as their own children and will be an influence in their life.
Modernization and the crowding of life have hurt the family. If we would do a few little simple thing, we can improve the situation. If the man has a job, he has something. He does not have to be the father. Any man in the house, the uncle or the brother or any adult male in the house can be that needed role model. It is best that it be the father. But if any male at home can let the children see the positive things he is doing, it can make a difference. Most often the children do not know what you are doing on a job. They just see you going out. They know nothing about your job. Let them see you at your job.
Do not be idle in your house just watching television or listening to records. Get up and paint the house. Paint the room. Nail a board back in place. Hang a picture. Try to fix the leaking sink. Even if you fail, at least try. Do anything to show you have industry in you. Nature made life so that fathers and the adult males, the growing boys had to be involved in something constructive. They had to do something of work. Nature made them to love work.
This crowded world of man, this busy play-world life of man makes most of us hate work. That condition is not natural and is not good for our souls. If you have a job and the boss will let you take your children on the job, one day just let them come and watch you for five to fifteen minutes at work on your job. Then tell someone to take them home. That will do wonders.
If they see you doing nothing but sitting around like a spoiled hen, they will have no hope in you. These youngsters out in the streets are lost because they have nothing at home to give them hope. Many have now taken on the responsibility for the home.
You said you may have hungry children: In our religion, if you are going outside to steal something or rob somebody to get something to feed a hungry mouth, you will not be treated like the person who does not have that degree of necessity. You may not be given any punishment at all. In fact, even if you are given punishment, you are supposed to get assistance too. You won't be kept in that desperate situation. That is our religion. I am not saying all Muslim societies in the world measure up to that responsibility. But that is our religion, and the heads of the Islamic states would agree if they were here.
I think that is nothing but the expression of good human nature. Allah has put the law in us, in our better nature. Our nature tells us we are not supposed to punish them when they were forced by necessity to go and get something to feed a hungry child at home or to feed themselves. Really, the whole attitude towards criminal behavior needs changing. Much of the criminal behavior that we call criminal is not the fault of the criminals as much as it is the fault of the society.
But even that is not all of the answer. And I don't think any of us have all of the answers right now. We have to do the best we can for each other and avoid sin. Brother, avoid sin. Sin will be punished.
To be continued...