Askia Muhammad Aquil receives key to the city

Mayor Rick Kriseman presented Askia Muhammad Aquil with the key to the city on March 18 at City Hall.

BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — Community activist and civil rights leader Imam Askia Muhammad Aquil was awarded the key to the City of St. Petersburg during the March 18 city council meeting.

“Askia has dedicated his life to making life better for others through his work to create quality affordable housing, his efforts around poverty reduction, and through peace,” said Mayor Rick Kriseman.” Askia has this aura around him; I think that is evident. Not only when you first meet him, but every time you’re with him, an aura that exudes peace, kindness, compassion.

Last month, the Tampa Times profiled Aquil’s journey from being targeted by the FBI as a young man in college to his activism with veterans and helping to fight economic disparities. Kriseman said the article was a difficult read because it is an all too familiar story.

“As a younger man, he was targeted by the FBI for being a Black vocal leader in the Civil Rights Movement,” stated Kriseman. “He was arrest. He was even arrested once for the charge of obscenity for simply quoting a passage from another civil rights leader. And yet, he overcame much and continues to give much.”

Husband, father, and long-time political and social justice activist, Aquil is also a leader in the faith community, helping to organize the annual Iftar dinner, which brings together the entire faith community to celebrate the breaking of fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The mayor also credits Aquil with helping the city’s African-American poverty level hit an all-time low.

“Askia is proof that, when given the opportunity to contribute in positive, meaningful ways, you can make a difference. That your contributions can make our community and our whole world a better place,” said Kriseman.

Councilmember Brandi Gabbard worked with Aquil on the Veterans Reintegration Project more than a decade ago. While their project did not come to fruition, Gabbard said she learned important life lessons from Aquil.

“Never give up, to always fight hard, to lead with a moral compass that guides you to the right path that you should be on,” she asserted.

While accepting the highest honor one can receive from a mayor, Aquil choked back the tears, saying, “My prayer is that the creator who endowed all of us with inalienable rights, that creator will make our city, our state, our country, our world places of peace and of security and of compassion. Places where the rights, both [sic] constitutional, human, and civil rights of all people, the dignity of every single human being is protected, safeguarded, and respected. I pledge to you that I will continue to do my part in conjunction with you.”

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