City Councilman Bro. John Muhammad hopes his stepping into city politics will encourage community members who have lost interest and trust in the power of their voice and vote to get engaged. Picture above (left) Councilman Muhammad and Mayor Ken Welch.
BY J.A. JONES, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – City of St. Petersburg Councilman Bro. John Muhammad has entered his term fully committed to bringing the same community-oriented mindset he has had for over a decade to the St. Petersburg City Council.
While focusing on constituents, attending local meetings, weighing in on community groups and lending an ear to social initiatives (as wide reaching a youth engagement, neighborhood improvement, environmental research, minimum wage increases, Amendment 4, and affordable living) can’t be easy, Muhammad’s long-term work has been just that.
Working with Community Development and Training, Inc. (CDAT), as former president of the widely recognized “model” neighborhood association in Childs Park, as a leader in the New Deal for St. Pete initiative, working with SEIU and now with Florida Rising, Muhammad also has his family and friend network roots in south St. Pete to lean on for support.
He is aware of how his work in the community and deep ties have supported his journey to this point – and he is respectful and passionate when he talks about that community.
Having to pull together quickly a 30-day campaign hadn’t been in his plans – but when he realized that’s what the universe had in mind, Muhammad acknowledged his community was key.
“It became abundantly clear because that was really all I had to stand on. The relationships that are built, and the way that I’ve treated people you throughout the course of my life.”
He also trusted the community to get behind him when he needed them – and feels that his supporters and stakeholders understand what it takes to step into a city council role.
“People do understand, but the way that those of us accept the responsibility show up, I think, sometimes it makes it look easier than what it really is. Because I do think people know, and that’s why I think so very few people step up to do this type of thing. Because they know what comes with it.”
Muhammad hopes his stepping into city politics at this level will encourage members of the community that have lost interest and trust in the power of their voice and vote to get engaged.
“Hopefully, me making the sacrifice [will] inspire other people to get off the bench and get involved.”
The new council member said that now the work is navigating a new terrain. With his signature line – “Believe and Do Good” – people were familiar with a Brother John doing grassroots work. Moving into “grass tops” work took a different kind of commitment.
Muhammad noted that his reluctance was partially because he was “happy” with grassroots work, even as it seemed he was meant to move in a new direction.
“I enjoy helping the way that I was helping. So that’s the other thing, too — getting out of your comfort zone. Because I was really comfortable, I was in a good space. We were helping people; we were doing things working with elected officials.”
He described himself as “kind of content” but added that this opportunity “really took me out of my comfort zone.” It also allowed him “to learn so much about myself and others … and clearly get a picture of where we are as a city.”
Today, Muhammad is “excited about the opportunity to serve.”
With a wealth of experience in eliciting community input, he said his approach to a bottom-up listening and responding process would continue. In his eyes, the responsibility of leadership is to focus on community engagement.
“That’s what the intent is, to continue to do community engagement, really using what we learned during the process of creating the New Deal for St. Pete. And working with the people to develop a community-led agenda with their council members … so that we can really represent them on council.”
Currently in a “listening phase.” the city recently embarked on a survey initiative to gauge where residents are on various issues. In addition to responding to what they see as issues, the survey also asks residents to share what they like about the area that they live in.
“We want to see you; know what aspects people really appreciate and see how we can expand on and build on those, in addition to just hearing what’s on people’s minds and what they’re really feeling.”
Check out Councilmember Muhammad’s own survey link here at www.bit.ly/d7speaks.
In considering some final thoughts, Muhammad shared, “If you really just believe and do good, the message is: believe in yourself. Believe in the cause,” noted Muhammad – who believes that doing good ultimately reaps the reward one is seeking.
Continuing to persist and push through all the barriers won’t always be easy, he added, but believing in oneself and having the confidence to believe one’s goals are possible are both vital components.
“The main thing is — it sounds kind of corny, kind of cliché — but really, never give up. Don’t allow others to define you. Don’t allow your past or any mistakes that you’ve made in the past to define you. The power of decision is really real.”