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A determined group of Muslims in small-town Mississippi is aiming to reverse the alarming trend of Black men being swallowed up by the American prison system, WLOX ABC 13 reports.

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Members of the Biloxi Islamic Center hope to reverse this trend with grassroots initiatives targeting the most vulnerable populations of the black community.

Yahya Muhammad, a member of the Center, told local station WLOX that blacks have to be more proactive in improving their own social and economic well-being.

“For us getting the freedoms that we do now and the opportunity to do something,” said Muhammad. “It’s more or less we just ain’t putting forth the effort to do enough for ourselves. Not what other folks can do for us, but it’s what we have to do for ourselves.”

Watch Muslims In Mississippi Talk About Community Empowerment

Many of the Center’s members were once affiliated with the Nation Of Islam (NOI), but have moved on to more mainstream Islam. “We started off as part of the Nation of Islam which was a religious group, which was considered a cult because it focused on race and color as apart of the membership,” said Sabree Rashid, president of the Center. “Now we’ve metamorphosized into a multicultural diversified community.”

Rashid is channeling some of the Center’s energy on employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated men. “We hope to have a job fair where the people are willing to hire people that have a criminal record, ex-felons, because we all make mistakes,” said Rashid. “Sometimes they make some terrible mistakes, but we have to be able to support these people because they have families.”

Rashid also said that the Center is looking to partner with other groups to improve outreach efforts and education initiativs. To read more on what the Biloxi Islamic Center is doing, go to WLOX ABC 13.

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