For a little more than a year, Ava Muhammad has visited cities across the United States conducting town halls in churches and mosques and posing the question of whether or not African Americans should separate from the United States.
And on Friday night, in front of an overflow audience inside a room seating more than 300, Muhammad, the national spokeswoman for Rev. Louis Farrakhan, brought that message to Philadelphia, the 15th city to hold such a town hall.
“We want our own land. We want freedom, justice and equality, and we can’t get it without some measure of sovereignty and self control,” Muhammad said. “That’s where that comes from. Our Black leaders, going far back in history — from Marcus Garvey to W.E.B. Du Bois to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad were proponents of separation.
“The circumstances that exist now have deteriorated,” Muhammad continued. “Our last hope was when we put a Black man in the oval office that gave us a great deal of hope and inspiration but his hands were tied,” she said of Barack Obama. “But there was more pressure on him from the Jewish community, the white community, from every community that had economic leverage and that’s what he had to respond to. And that’s why we need our own.”
The subject of whether or not the descendants of enslaved Africans in America should receive reparations has been a hot-button issue in the news. Last week, Congress held hearings in Washington on House Resolution 40, a measure that would create a national commission to study the legacy of slavery and make proposals on reparations to African Americans.
However, the Nation of Islam has long spoken of separation.
“With all that has gone on — from the slavery, to Reconstruction, to Jim Crow, the redlining of Black people, the dismantling of education where ever we are in this country — and they are just at the point where they are considering to study whether or not we should receive reparations should tell you all you need to know about whether white America wants to allow real assimilation,” Muhammad said. “The answer is very clear to any rational person that the answer is no.”
Muhammad pointed out that the wealth gap — white American families on average are worth approximately $171,000 compared to $17,000 for Black families — is a result of slavery and “America’s dehumanizing of Black people for more than 400 years." She said the NOI believes that entitles Blacks to territory in the United States to separate.
The process includes passing out petitions at the end of each town hall — she did not say when the tally would be finished — and then deciding what the next steps should be.
“We are going to make that decision,” she said. “But first and foremost is that we make our communities a safe and decent place to live. That is phase one. In our communities where we are preying on each other we are giving law enforcement a door to be a presence in our community.”
The town hall was packed with well-dressed men in bowties and women in the traditional garb of the the Nation of Islam. People came from work. They were young and old, and there were plenty of people in attendance of various religions.
“Make no mistake about it — this is not a religious movement,” Muhammad said. “We are bound by our blackness. Where ever we have gone, Black people are facing the same challenges and those challenges are not a byproduct of our religion but they are a byproduct of being Black in America.”
Minister Rodney Muhammad, the leader of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP and the minister at Mosque No. 12, coordinated Friday’s meeting. He helped facilitate a panel and question-and-answer session that featured Aaron Smith of WURD and Temple University; Keith Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam in Chester; attorney and Tribune columnist Michael Coard; and Anthony Monteiro, a former professor of African-American studies at Temple.