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The Nation of Islam’s annual Saviours’ Day Convention will be held Feb. 20-23 at Cobo Center in Detroit, where the organization started. The convention marks the 84th year of the NOI’s existence. This year’s theme is “How Strong is Our Foundation: Can We Survive?  The keynote will be delivered by Minister Louis Farrakhan, Feb. 23 at Joe Louis Arena at 2 p.m. 

In a telephone interview days before the convention, Minister Ishmael Muhammad of the NOI spoke with the Michigan Citizen regarding the State of Black Detroit and Black America.

Michigan Citizen: Why Detroit for Saviours’ Day 2014?

Minister Ishmael Muhammad

Minister Ishmael Muhammad

Minister Ishmael Muhammad: Detroit is our home. It is the home of the Nation of Islam; it represents the Mecca for the NOI. It is our roots. So coming back to Detroit we honor the man that founded the NOI in that city in 1930. That is why we’re coming back to Detroit.

MC: We have seen dollars trump democracy in Detroit, which had to weather the same economic storms as Wall Street too-big-to-fail banks, General Motors and Chrysler, which received bailouts. Detroit didn’t and is now in bankruptcy court. Do you believe President Obama should have stepped up for Detroit?

Minister Louis Farrakhan

Minister Louis Farrakhan

MIM: (President Obama) has a tremendous burden to carry as he is trying his very best to right the course of America and he has many who are around him that advise him on how he should respond to any particular crisis, whether it is international or national.  Inasmuch as we can, as a people, look to our brother to respond to the legitimate need and the hurt and suffering of Black people that we have a responsibility as a community to improve our own condition. We are very clear, those of us who have been taught by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, who follow and listen to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, that the government does not have a plan for us. And we are very clear if we want a future for ourselves, we are going to have to make a future for ourselves and we are going to have to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. The Black community in Detroit, in Chicago, Black people in America have to look at the program of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, see its value and understand as a people we have to do something for ourselves. And if the government supports us or aid us, which they should and have a responsibility to do, but more than government responsibility, we have to do something for ourselves and put ourselves in a better position. And we can do that if we have the right idea, the right program and the right agenda to solve our own problems. We can provide jobs for our own people, we can educate our own people and we can assure ourselves of a better future by looking to ourselves and looking to our God to provide for us, what is not the will of others to do for us.

MC: In recent years, we’ve witnessed the undoing of Black institutions and Black political power, not only in Detroit, but nationally. These institutions created stability and empowered our communities. What can we do to rebuild them and regain our power?

MIM: Taking control and supporting them ourselves. These institutions and the HBCU’s and the organizations, when you follow the dollar you find they are funded and supported by outside forces and so they are determining and directing the agenda, whether or not they rise or fall. So we have never had complete control of our own institutions. It may have a Black face on it, but it’s not supported by the dollars that come into our hands. So we’re always at the mercy and we are subject to the wishes and the will and the direction of others in these institutions that are at the board of directors, but we don’t have full control of these institutions as they may appear. That is why we see these organizations and institutions suffering because they’re dependent upon funding from the government from private sectors and philanthropists, but they are not funded by the Black community.

MC: With the imposition of an emergency manager (over all three branches of government in Detroit and its public school district), the doors to democracy have been slammed shut on Detroit — American’s Blackest and poorest city. Is there a message to Black America as a result?

MIM: Absolutely. The question we have always asked ourselves — and it demands answers to — is: Is the American democracy a system and way of life that gives justice and freedom to Blacks? We have fought in all of their wars, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, in their wars all across this globe, but what has that meant for our rights as a people — our freedom? We have fought on the battlefields to secure the freedom for others, but our fight for freedom has not yet been won, because no man can be guaranteed a freedom for himself fighting for the freedom of another man in hopes that when that man secures his freedom he’s gonna share his freedom with you. So the American democracy never intended and included for Blacks to share in that freedom and we can go all the way back in the Constitution as it was written. Black people were not a part of that “we.” Black folks were not even a thought in that. And when they made amendments, we were swallowed up in America and called three-fifths of human beings. So we were never recognized then or today to be an American. And we can’t be an American according to their definition of the word. So what is happening today is that the message that is being sent is that they who are in power never intended then and they don’t intend today to respect the legitimate rights of Black people who have helped them to secure their democracy and helped America to be the super power of the world, helped America to be wealthy and great. America is today what it is because of the contribution — the suffering, the sweat and blood — of Black people and the pain of Black people for over 400 years.

So the message that’s being sent to us is …we have to do something for ourselves… If they really intended freedom for us — the Honorable Elijah Muhammad said what they gave to us in the Emancipation Proclamation was only a half of freedom, because they never gave us the knowledge and the tools to exercise freedom, nor did they give us land that would allow us to build wealth for ourselves. So they never fulfilled their promise of 40 acres and a mule and historians and scholars say that America’s, and other Black people’s condition would be vastly different if land was given to Blacks as was promised. And if the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments of the Constitution were enforced, then the condition of Black people would be much different today. The message being sent is that this democracy does not work for Black people. And cannot guarantee to Black people freedom, justice, equality and the pursuit of happiness.

MC: What do we focus on to help eliminate the violence in our community?

MIM: We have to realize that we (our leadership, the elders, parents) have to accept some responsibility for what is happening on our streets, where we see this senseless violence and killing of the young people, the fratricidal conflict that rages throughout the cities of America. We have failed to give them a vision. The Bible says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” And the Bible also says, “My people are destroyed from the lack of knowledge.” These young people out here are totally disconnected from their history. We have allowed the educational system to totally dismiss and take away from the curriculum — Black history that our young people could know how they got here; know the suffering and pain and tremendous loss of life in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade; how we endured through the Jim Crow era and the lynching and burning at the stake; the suffering and price paid during the Civil Rights Movement so we could have the right to vote for that which they’re slowly, but surely, taking away from us today. But the young brother and sister on the street have very little or no knowledge at all of their history. So this violence, at the root of it is the lack of knowledge and the young people not knowing their history. Without the proper knowledge of self and without the young people knowing their history, they can’t appreciate themselves, they can’t see their brother as their brother. We have become our own worst enemy. At the root of the violence is ignorance; at the root of the violence is neglect; at the root of the violence is abandonment; at the root of the violence is self-hatred. How do we turn it around?

We have to go out there and get to these young people the kind knowledge that will allow them to value themselves and see the value and extremely invaluable work of their brother and sister so that they will be respecting each other and not disrespecting each other and killing each other … because they don’t know who they are where they came from. And if you don’t know where you came from, you don’t know where you’re going.

MC: Let’s say we have the knowledge and discover the value of self-love. What is the role of poverty in that?

MIM: The knowledge will improve the condition. The knowledge will raise us up out of poverty.

Poverty is a condition created from the lack of knowledge. That’s why Jesus said in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” They’re not lacking money, they’re poor — meaning they’re lacking and deficient in the energy of life. And the energy of life comes from … knowledge.

MC: What role do you believe music plays in the behavior of our children?

MIM: Music is a universal language and music plays a vital role in shaping the behavior and is a powerful force in influencing the behavior of the people. We have to understand those who put that type of music on the radio. This is not by accident, but it is by design. You cannot look at this senseless violence and dismiss the negative influence the lyrics in the rap music are having on the destructive behavior of our young people. These artists and rappers are absolutely gifted and talented and they go in, many of them, with a positive conscious message. But the producers and those who control whether or not their track and music gets played on the airwaves, they are encouraging them and telling them to speak in terms that degrade our women. They are the ones encouraging them to be low down and filthy. Why? Because it is by design to shape a whole society — and particularly our young people. Why is that? Because the young people represent a generation of fulfillment based upon prophecy in the Bible. And the forces of evil know that this is a generation born for the Messiah. And so hip hop is not what it used to be. They have turned the positive conscious hip hop we grew up on in the early 80s and they have put all of this filth where everything you listen to is degrading the female, is all encouraging the appetite of sex. How can we hope the young people will relate to each other properly or in a civil manner when they are being influenced purposely in this way so the young men will disrespect the women. When they look at their women as objects of pleasure and not made responsible. This is by design by the forces of evil in this country.

MC: Infant mortality in Detroit approaches that of Third World nations. Is there a recommended course of action for women and single female heads of households to address this issue?

MIM: It’s all in what we have discussed. The NOI represents a civilizing force in our community. It has a proven program to transform people’s lives. If we were to look and reexamine what God has given to us through Elijah Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan, the answer to all of our problems have already been given to us. Our problem is we keep looking in the wrong direction and the same direction for our answers and solutions. We keep going back to our former slave masters for solutions to correct our problem and they don’t have the solution nor the will to help us. But it also comes from a natural law that no one can help anyone who is not willing to help themselves. So the answer to all of these injustices, disparities in health and education, the infant mortality rate, the single households headed by women, it all speaks to the same thing: We are lacking in knowledge and we are lacking the will as a people to move away from a system that has historically oppressed us.

No other people in this country — every immigrant, Latino brothers are crossing the border every day and they have their level of suffering living under a racist and oppressive system, but they are working among themselves to make a life for themselves. The Polish came after us, the Italians after us, the Jews after us, the Arabs and the Asians after us, but they are working in a collective manner. And that’s why they are more productive and successful than we are. Because they have self-knowledge and they are not looking to government for a handout. They go to government already with a program based upon their self-interests that forces the government to give support to them in whatever program they put on the table.

But we as a people have been here longer than any of these that have settled here, yet we are in a worst condition because as the Honorable Elijah Muhammad said, “We have not yet broken the slave mind in us.” And until that is broken we are not going to see a productive, progressive and vibrant community as we were back in the early 20th century during the days of segregation and during the time we were denied the right to vote in the South. We used and spent our money among ourselves, we educated our children, we had more land and farmland back then than we do today. So we are in bad shape and in a bad condition. But I respectfully and humbly submit the answer to all of our problems has been given to us in the teaching and program of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. I guarantee to anyone, by coming out this Sunday to Joe Louis arena, that no matter what questions you bring with you, you will find an answer in what Minister Farrakhan shares from God on that day.

MC: Are there any new NOI programs to help build economic self-reliance?

MIM: The Muhammad Economic Blueprint. We will present it Thursday (Feb. 20) at Cobo Center at 8 p.m. and it will be discussed throughout the weekend. It is a national program to help end poverty by pooling our dollars into a national treasury. So we can begin to rebuild the “wasted cities,” so that we can fund a proper education to our children and not allow schools to close. If we had the treasury and the economic development to support this, then we wouldn’t have to be upset with those that take services from us and close our schools down. It all deals with the program of self-sufficiency.

For a schedule of events and more information about Saviours Day, visit

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