ST. PETERSBURG — Muhammad Mosque No. 95 held a community forum entitled “Repairing the Black Family,” at Bethel Community Baptist Church, 2901 54th Ave. S. Sat., Dec. 13.
Members of the panel included Pastor Robert Harrison; Jeff Copeland, executive director, SCLC; Melissa Newton, president of Westminster Heights Neighborhood Association; Ruthie Maynard-Jones, vice president, Childs Park Youth Athletic Association; Pastor Manuel Sykes, Bethel Community Baptist Church and Chimurenga Waller of the Uhuru Movement.
The panelists fielded questions from the audience before Student Minster Nuri Muhammad, a representative of the Nation of Islam, spoke about the need for action and community involvement in light of the recent unrest caused by shootings of young African-American men by policemen.
“This is a vital time for a crucial subject,” Sykes said. “We are living in very, very difficult times when there seems to be no real backlash when an African-American male is killed in questionable circumstances and sometimes circumstance that are not questionable by white officers.”
He added that a healthy approach to this issue is not just fighting for justice and protesting in the streets, but taking a look at what the African-American people can do and how they can strengthen themselves and the relationships in their own communities to protect themselves and even teach themselves how to survive in this kind of environment.
“Now is a time where we have to begin looking at how we can go about saving ourselves and our children, to assure that this will be somewhat of a wakeup call,” Sykes said. “There is such a thing as extinction and it can jump from the animal kingdom to the human family if we’re not careful.”
Student Minister Ali Muhammad from local Muhammad Mosque No. 95 said: “We here in the city of St. Petersburg found it necessary to come together as a family to use our collective mental powers to try to offer our children information. We cannot just go along to get along and have our children out here in the country without guidance on how they should behave according to what is happening to us as a people.”
Ali Muhammad outlined the forum’s program, which centered around repairing the black family, discussing why the black family should be together in an hour like this, looking at the destruction of the black home, the black family and the black community and addressing these concerns with truth while raising community awareness of the knowledge and conduct that is needed in this time.
He explained the objective is to give guidance to the residents within the bay area that desire to change the existing conditions and to help the men and women in our community come together in unity and effect a universal change.
“I hope we don’t see ourselves just as local because the world is involved with crying out for justice for us,” Ali Muhammad stated.
One topic point was what type of conversation parents should have with their children concerning these recent killings and verdicts in which young black men have been the victims of lethal action from white police officers who have been in turn exonerated.
“Police officers are the most powerful people on the planet,” Copeland averred. “They can take your life from you or they can take your freedom from you. That being said, I teach my children and other children when you come in contact with the officers, be respectful. It’s really very hard for anybody to be angry when a person’s respectful to them…No matter how loud or aggressive you speak, they’re in control.”
Newton echoed the sentiment of showing respect as a way of not allowing a situation to escalate.
“I have three boys and I always tell them be respectful to the law when they stop you,” she said. “Don’t have an attitude, because they can come with an attitude and you don’t want that attitude. Think about going home safely. Soon as they stop you think about, ‘What do I need to do to get out of this situation?’ You don’t need to use force, just have a good attitude.”
Maynard-Jones added that the “thing that you still have to do is to remain focused” in such a situation and not view the officer as an adversary so that the law enforcement official will not see you in that way as well.
“Even though in your gut you feel like you’re being profiled or what have you,” she said, “the thing is to not escalate the situation,” adding you can have your voice later on when you can communicate about the injustices, and how they can be stopped.
Copeland addressed the need to reestablish a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood within the community, lamenting that far too often there’s a sense of mistrust among African Americans.
“We always second guess one another,” he said. “The problem starts with us, we’re not investing in each other and trusting each other as we trust outsiders that come along that we don’t even know.”
Audience member Dr. Chris Warren, a professor at St. Petersburg College, said he was disheartened by the obvious lack of young people on hand at the several forums he’s attended. Pastor Martin Rainey followed up by stating, “If our children are unhealthy, let’s talk to the parents! If mom and daddy do not have any skills of raising children, then the same things are going to happen. It’s like being on a treadmill—running and going nowhere!”
Newton expressed the importance of young people establishing a solid communication with law enforcement officials.
“I try to have the children in our neighborhood involved in every event that we take a part of,” she said. I invite the police officers, have the children talk with the police officers, talk with the firefighters and form some kind of communication with them. I have to get these kids to understand and the police officers to understand that we all have to work together.”
Added Maynard-Jones: “The youth voice carries a lot of weight and they trust us as adults to make their wishes unfold. We want them to know that their opinions are important and they’re valued. We need to listen to them and those challenges that they’re facing.”
Waller said that many times people assume that the youth don’t have an understanding of what’s going on in society, but he witnessed firsthand the involvement of the young people in Ferguson, Mo. after Michael Brown was shot and killed.
“I went to Ferguson on August 30 to the national day of protest,” he explained, “and a lot of young people were in that march. And I was struck how the young people were articulating what was going on in Ferguson.”
Waller promoted his concept for “black community control” of the police and called for a “deconstruction” of the current relationship between the African-American community and the police department.
“We have control over the police—who is hired in the black community, who is fired, who is investigated—so that we can deconstruct this colonial relationship,” he said, “this relationship of occupying army to colonial subject in our community, that’s what black community control of the police means. You deconstruct that relationship then you will see the Michael Browns stop happening.”
Edie Darling, a retired Pinellas County law enforcement official and current radio show host, warned against fostering an “us versus them” mentality.
“We cannot do that!” she said. “We have to come together and have a conversation.”
Student Minster Nuri Muhammad closed out the forum and expressed that this is a crucial time that demands involvement.
“We have reached a point right now where we are sick and tired of being sick and tired,” he said. “And when we reach that level of dissatisfaction, change is guaranteed to come!”
Nuri Muhammad stressed the importance of forums such as this one to dispense “nuggets of knowledge” and “jewels of wisdom” in hopes of the overall improvement of the community.
“That’s why we’ve got to have programs like these,” he stated. “It’s up to us to save ourselves.”