Picture this: nearly 350 men – most African Americans – from all walks of life at the first Mid-South Men’s Forum held at the Benjamin L. Hooks Jobs Corp Center in Whitehaven.
For this Mid-South Forum attendee, the invitation to ask a question was an opportunity to participate. (Photo by Ziggy Mack)
Organizers of the Mid-South Men’s Forum, included: (l to r) Tederall Muhammad, Van Turner, Reginald French, Drumma Boy, Young Phenomenon, Bernal Smith II, Kareem Ali, and James Harris. (Photo by Ziggy Mack)
Oh yes, don’t leave out bone-chilling temperatures.
Businessmen, entertainers, ex-felons, pastors/spiritual leaders, educators, intellectuals, illiterate, working class, and the jobless all with a singular purpose – working for solutions to common struggles.
“I am so energized by the assembly of talent, ideas and energy that we were able to bring together on Saturday (Jan. 9),” said Bernal Smith II, president of the 100 Black Men of Memphis, Inc., and one of several forum conveners.
“I am even more excited about the opportunity we have now to mobilize men to action in supporting initiatives and plans that will dynamically impact struggling communities throughout Memphis and ultimately change our entire city for the better!”
Saturday’s assembly evolved from a series of smaller meetings to establish the basis of a community action plan. Other conveners included Van Turner, chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party; Kareem Ali, local leader of the Millions Father March; Tedarrell Muhammad of the Southaven Muhammad Study Group; Veniras Scott, president of Mid-South Interfaith; Drumma Boy, CEO of Drum Squad Productions and National Recording artist; Reginald French, former City of Memphis executive and Democratic candidate for Shelby County Sheriff.
The idea for Saturday’s session was to mobilize men to service with the introduction of a grassroots plan of action to deal with various issues plaguing the African-American community, including growth in economic and business development, improving education and learning throughout the community, redeveloping and strengthening communities, and the creation of safer communities with reduced crime.
What emerged was a three-pronged focus that included the creation of the Onyx Loan Investment Fund and Loan Pool targeted to assist small black business owners through the establishment of a cooperative savings/investment club. Many men contributed at the forum and many others made pledges to contribute to the establishment of the fund.
Another point of emphasis was a call for community canvassing and an increased presence of well-intentioned African-American men in the most challenged neighborhoods. During the month of February, the group will be doing “Safe Walks” every Saturday in various communities during what Pastor Ralph White, a speaker at the forum, called a month long “Moratorium on Crime.” The kickoff for the Safe Walks and the Moratorium on Crime is Saturday, Jan. 30 at noon at the Civil Rights Museum.
The third focus was the adoption of one or two of the most severely challenged and under-performing schools in the Memphis City Schools system and to provide mentoring, support and presence. Hamilton and Frayser High Schools have been targeted.
The group is also looking to work with churches and other organizations with facilities and resources to establish a network of after-school and Saturday-school programs designed to strengthen both education and spirituality of youth while reducing juvenile crime.
The keynote speaker was Brother Nuri Muhammad, from the Indianapolis Mosque of the Nation of Islam.
“Men are the nucleus of the family, and the family is the nucleus of the community,” he said.
Using the Lord’s Prayer as a guide, Muhammad pointed out a spiritual and practical road map for men to use in developing themselves and the young men around them.
“I’ve traveled the country speaking and attending similar assemblies, but this was definitely one of the most well-developed, well-attended and engaging events that I’ve participated in,” Muhammad said. “The men here truly have a chance to revive the city of Memphis through this effort.”
Afterwards, Tedarrell Muhammad of the Southaven Muhammad Study Group said, “Our goal is to ask black men to accept responsibility to build our own community. We plan to do what we say and say what we do. The spirit of the Men’s Forum was wonderful. We plan to serve all our brothers. This is a grassroots movement. We are building on the sprit of what the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan brought to Memphis in Oct. 2009.”
Kareem Ali, local leader of the Millions Father March, said, “Since the post civil rights movement, there has never been such a gathering of black men to unite and strategize on solutions to build our community, unless it was convened by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, and he was physically present, such as the 1995 All-Men’s Meeting at the Cook Convention Center, where nearly 10,000 black men where in attendance.”
Ali said the gathering of men for the Mid-South Men’s Forum was and is “a sign of black men maturing and growing up with a new mind and action steps to take responsibility to build our communities without the presence of our father or big brother the Honorable Min. Louis Farrakhan.”
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