Amidst the storm of controversy surrounding a live broadcast of the Bev Smith Show March 11, featured speaker Min. Louis Farrakhan took the stage with a smile. While Farrakhan and host Bev Smith touched on the outcry from local Jewish community organizations who have labeled Farrakhan as anti-Semitic, they stayed focused on the town hall meeting’s topic “The Disappearing Black Community: Where and How Do We Begin to Rebuild.”
The task given to panelists Farrakhan, Congressman James Clyburn, and Hon. Dorothy Wright Tillman was to develop solutions to elevate African-Americans and rebuild the Black community. While the panelists and host agreed Blacks must support each other, this idea became a reality when both Farrakhan and Clyburn offered to fund the next town hall meeting in order to eliminate commercial interruptions.
“Even after the worst days of slavery, we never did to each other what we are doing now. We have indeed made progress, but the progress is in a certain group. It makes no difference that we have a Black president, and he is a great president. Now we’re worse than we ever were,” Farrakhan said. “We have some fault in this matter. I want us to see our fault in this. There is a solution to our problem and there is a way to rebuild our community.”
Among his indictments of public education, Black males, and materialism, Farrakhan’s primary focus was on Black’s building resources and devoting those resources to the Black community. He demonstrated how immigrants and other ethnic groups have made this work through examples such as China Town and Little Italy.
“What is America going to do in her financial decline? Do you really think they’re going to create jobs for you? If you think America can provide enough jobs for her own and ours, you’re suffering from a delusion,” Farrakhan said. “Suppose we got together and pulled our wealthy into the room and said what if we pooled our wealth together and bought 200 acres of land.”
As a congressman in the House of Representatives, Clyburn has seen how powerful one person’s vote can be. Along with the other panelists and Smith, he emphasized the importance of voting and staying involved in government issues.
“I get a little concerned when people react, appropriately, to precepts and then after the meeting is over and we go home and there is no action,” Clyburn said. “There must be vigilance in our community. You’re that one vote that can make significant change. In 2010 we took our eyes off the prize and we see what we get.”
“This is serious business tonight. We plan to step on your toes,” Smith said. “People died so you could vote. Political power is what we need.”
In her comments, Tillman, a longtime civil rights activist who served under Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., frequently referenced a book she was reading about how to train slaves. She said the tactics in the book are still being used against Blacks today and causing Black government officials to shy away from fighting for Black causes.
“You cannot fight scared. We have more Black officials than ever before and we’re still worse off. Understand it’s OK to be Black,” Tillman said. “We have a right to demand those dollars. Those are your tax dollars.”
Other solutions were more localized and could be carried out by any Black person regardless of economic status in their everyday life. The panelists took specific aim at African-American men, charging them to hold women in higher esteem.
“I want you to treat every woman as you want your mother to be treated,” Clyburn said. “I believe if we were to be examples of the precepts we listen to and speak, we could be the change we want to see.”
Earlier in the week, the Bev Smith Show and the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, who hosted the event, were attacked by members of the Jewish community who expressed disproval of Farrakhan’s appearance citing anti-Semitic comments he had made in the past. While Farrakhan denied these accusations throughout the night, he also took time to promote a Nation of Islam Book, “The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews,” which explores Jewish involvement in the slave trade.
“I’m deeply saddened by the controversy because it need not have been,” Farrakhan said. “Because I have been charged as an anti-semite and because that charge has stuck, we have missed out. We have been denied jobs. I have never hated the Jewish people.”
The anti-Semitic label has made many organizations fearful of partnering with Farrakhan. Originally, Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, was slated to speak, but she withdrew after reportedly being told she would lose funding for one of her organization’s projects.
“We have no time to argue with anyone. We never step into another ethnic community and say don’t meet with him or her. I don’t have to prove I am not anti-Semitic. I have to prove that I am for my people,” Smith said. “I don’t want this to be a battle between Black people and Jewish people.”