The following article — written by Russell Simmons, CEO of Rush Communications, Chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, and founder of Def Jam Records — was originally published on HuffingtonPost.com in response to an exclusive statement NewsOne.com obtained from Dr. Ava Muhammad, the national spokesperson for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, denouncing anti-Semitic and hate speech claims from the Anti-Defamation League.
You can read Muhammad’s full statement here.
I am a 58-year-old African-American man from Hollis, Queens, New York. I grew up in a typical lower middle class Black neighborhood (the last White family moved out just as we were moving in). Soon after our family made our move into the neighborhood, the heroin epidemic hit.
When I was in the 8th grade, some of my friends were already shooting heroin. Fortunately, I didn’t fall into that trap because I was just too afraid. However, I must admit they did seem like the cool ones. Anyway, I grew up watching friends and family members die or go to jail because of this epidemic. Our street corner was, I believe, the number one corner in Queens for heroin. The block also shared a mosque, a rehab, and a Steak-N-Take, which was all owned and operated by the Black Muslims. There was also a dry cleaners owned by the famous “American gangster” Frank Lucas; the dry cleaner was named Larry Lucas. The entire neighborhood quickly went downhill with the drug infestation. Our corner, 205 St. and Hollis Ave (now known as Run-DMC Way) was a hotspot for not only heroin, but marijuana as well.
By the time I turned 15 or 16, I became an entrepreneur. I sold marijuana on that hot corner. I was always told to “stay off that f*cking corner,” so I kept an eye out for not only the police, but also for my dad. The only people who would take time to speak to us were the men in shiny bow ties who were members of the Nation of Islam. Yes, I, like most Black Americans, grew up with guys pushing Muhammad Speaks newspapers and selling bean pies. These men were the only good inspiration that I, and many of the guys in the hood life, could relate to. I can guarantee that many of us are alive because of their inspiration.
A day I will never forget started with me putting on my alligator shoes and expensive silk and wool pants and getting ready to hear the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan talk about Black empowerment and self-love. This had a profound effect on me that continues to this day.
I always loved and respected the Nation’s men in suits led by this powerful man. I remember going to Madison Square Garden with Rick Rubin (who wanted to tag along) and watching the Minister threaten the world after, if my memory serves me correctly, at least three Rainbow Coalition offices (led by Rev. Jesse Jackson) had been bombed or defaced.
I remember, as you probably do, the day Jesse Jackson ran for president and he made the horrible statement about “Hymietown.” Anyway, since he had no secret service, it was the FOI (Fruit of Islam, the Nation’s private security firm) who protected him. I remember the Minister saying this was the “last Black leader that America would kill while we, African-Americans, or God sat by.” I think the threat was about God destroying America more than us erupting in violence.
I remember the conflict that began thirty years ago when FOI was securing Jesse Jackson and his office was firebombed. The Minister was, I believe, misquoted in the press as saying Judaism was a “gutter religion.” He has maintained, and we who love and support him have accepted, that he said those who engaged in this act of violence “guttered the religion.” However, the damage was done. This statement followed him even to the point where it caused Congressman Peter King and the U.S. government to ban the Nation of Islam from the contracts securing our housing projects. We have never been as secure as we were when they were the forces that secured us.
Following this, one of the leaders of the extremist organization, the Jewish Defense League, was arrested because he set himself up outside as a sniper and shot up my Def Jam office on Varick Street in New York City in retaliation for Public Enemy’s public support of the Nation of Islam.
I have been a witness to so much of the Nation’s work. I have attended all of their marches, from the Million Man March (which Harvard University says was attended by close to 2 million men) to the Million Family March, where the headcount was smaller but looked the same from the podium. I have followed their work all the way up to the most recent march in October, which was the 20th anniversary of the first. Not surprisingly, it was not publicized or covered in the media, but this didn’t make it any less impactful. It was still one of the biggest marches in the history of this country. Following the overwhelming response to the call, the Million Man March resulted in an additional 1.7 million Black men voting in the 1996 presidential elections; the rate of Black adoptions rose, and many Black men left with a sense of personal responsibility to develop their communities and help to re-energize Christian churches along with other local and national organizations.
All the marches were not only peaceful, but they all brought people to tears and asked the question — “How can we as Black people better ourselves?”
Seems like the people never even left a candy wrapper on the street. There was respect at these marches — respect for ourselves and for the world we live in. I say all this to paint a picture and echo a sentiment I know to be true: BLACK AMERICA LOVES THE NATION OF ISLAM. But at what cost?
Many people have lost their jobs for openly associating with the Nation. Arsenio Hall, after being warned, says his last straw was bringing the Minister on his talk show. Great Civil Rights activists such as Ben Chavis were told if the Minister stepped foot in the NAACP, he would be fired – and he was. Being friends with the Minister has always been a litmus test on whether you are suitable to partner with or befriend members of other communities (especially certain segments of the Jewish community).
I have never worried about this since I am proudly and humbly probably the greatest African-American supporter of fighting anti-Semitism around the world. I have seen this disconnect and I realize if you mischaracterize leaders truthfully or untruthfully as haters, their followers become haters unto you. It is not a good strategy that has backfired on the Anti-Defamation League, and does nothing more than spread the message of hatred. Similarly, I have said countless times that by calling every African-American leader an anti-Semite, you create the very thing you are trying to combat. For example, Will Smith, Kanye West, Reverend Sharpton, Reverend Jackson, Martin Luther King, Andrew Young, and countless others have received this label from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
As the Chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, it is my job to fight anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and all forms of bigotry, and I have done so for close to 20 years. In fact, I once held a dinner over fifteen years ago that was to be attended by Reverend Jackson, Cornel West, Martin Luther King III, Elie Wiesel, Allan Steinberg, Israel Singer, my partner Rabbi Schneier, and of course, Farrakhan.
In the end, no one from the Jewish side came except Rabbi Schneier. The dinner was relatively boring. It was basically two reverends talking about who came off the mountain at what time. The African-American leaders desperately wanted this meeting to occur and traveled to be part of it. But the next day, Minister Farrakhan spoke to the hip-hop community at the first Hip-Hop Summit (attended by Will Smith, Jay Z, Puffy, and countless artists and executives like Jermaine Dupri and Paul Rosenberg – Eminem’s manager). This time, the media did cover the Minister’s speech, with one line being the most publicized, “You guys ain’t no gangsters, but you are living under a gangster government.” What else was new?
I guess it was OK this time to be near him because the heads of the NAACP, Urban League, all the Black city council, and lots of politicians (some who were running for mayor) came as well. That day, the Minister quoted the Rabbi numerous times in his speech. He said to the rappers that words have no effect unless they can be digested.
The purpose of this blog is to 1. Explain why I love Louis Farrakhan, namely because of the hundreds of thousands of Black lives — including mine — that he has saved and 2. Timing — the ADL has new leadership and the old style of management is gone.
I wonder if the new regime of the ADL can begin a new chapter. I support all the work they do and have enormous faith in them going forward. Can we/you take Farrakhan up on his many requests for a meeting and begin a new chapter? I believe in the power of dialogue and of sameness, and I believe that this request from me is one that every African-American – from President Obama to all the famous Black intellectuals and the rap community – would like to see take place.
I will close by saying that this blog was inspired by a letter published in the number one Black news site yesterday, written by attorney sister Ava Muhammad. She has been the Minister’s national spokesperson for the last 20 years (the same position Malcolm held for Elijah). I read her thoughtful letter and it reminded me that my job is about mending fences. The time has come for healing between a man, who is by far the most influential Black spiritual and civil rights leader of our time, and the ADL, which has always worked hard to protect and serve the Jewish community.
This is simple. Let’s get it done.
With great love, all things are possible.
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