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The Philadelphia Masjid, Inc.: Reclaiming a bastion for Black Muslims

THE PHILADELPHIA TRIBUNE — As one of the nation’s most historic Islamic sites, The Philadelphia Masjid, Inc. has a deep and textured history that’s seen highs and lows — from the building of a thriving religious community to having its very existence threatened. The Masjid was established in 1976 as a congregation of eight temples that were formerly apart of the Nation of Islam, and is known for fostering a robust Black Muslim community that produced devout followers, operated businesses and maintained an independent school.

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By Samaria Bailey

As one of the nation’s most historic Islamic sites, The Philadelphia Masjid, Inc. has a deep and textured history that’s seen highs and lows — from the building of a thriving religious community to having its very existence threatened.

The Masjid was established in 1976 as a congregation of eight temples that were formerly apart of the Nation of Islam, and is known for fostering a robust Black Muslim community that produced devout followers, operated businesses and maintained an independent school.

Imam Kenneth Nuriddin addresses the congregation (Photo by: Abdul R. Sulayman | Tribune Chief Photographer)

Imam Kenneth Nuriddin addresses the congregation (Photo by: Abdul R. Sulayman | Tribune Chief Photographer)

Now rebuilding from a series of leadership and legal challenges nearly 10 years ago, their vision is to reclaim their position as a bastion for Black Muslims and the surrounding community.

“We grew out of a movement or a community that was known as the Nation of Islam, and it was a community that was independent in the sense that we relied on ourselves,” said Resident Imam Kenneth Nurridin. “We didn’t look to the East for direction, we really didn’t even look to America for direction, but we sort of looked at the need we had and our needs as a people.”

The Philadelphia Masjid has roots in the Nation of Islam’s Temple No. 12, formerly located at 13th and Susquehanna streets.

Following changes in the Nation, brothers and sisters left the main Temple No. 12 and other Temple No. 12 locations around the city to join the the World Community of Islam in the West under the leadership of Imam Warith Deen Muhammad. These brothers and sisters established the Philadelphia Masjid in 1976.

“Imam Warith Deen Muhammad … brought us the religion, the traditional standards that are lived by Muslims all over the world, but the unique thing is we didn’t have to depend on them for interpretation or application of it. It was based on what we as a people needed,” said Nurridin. “We began to look at the things that the Nation of Islam espoused — the white man is the devil. This was also like a shock treatment for our people and for the greater society and it was almost like a chemotherapy because white supremacy was a cancer. If you got cancer, you need a strong drug. The treatments of Elijah Muhammad were like a chemotherapy that cured us of inferiority complexes and it freed us to now be in a position where we can take responsibility for our own community.”

The practice of this do-for-self philosophy resulted in the Philadelphia Masjid becoming a house of prayer that empowered its people socially just as much as it did spiritually.

“We [had] a school here … We had businesses. We had a supermarket, we had bakeries. We had a fish program where we were bringing in fish from Peru,” said Nurridin. “So, all of the economic necessities were brought into perspective and among our people. We had more economic strength when we were isolated or segregated because we had to do for self.”

The Sister Clara Muhammad School was a special point of pride. For nearly 30 years, it educated thousands of Black Muslim students in academics and the tenets of Islam.

By the early 2000s, the Masjid was embroiled in legal troubles and leadership issues, which hurt the development and economic progress made in their early years. The school, facing competition from charter schools, closed in 2005 amid the legal battles.

“It did slow down because everything we did was centered around the children,” said Aazim Muhammad, executive director of the Masjid’s Community Development Corporation. “There became a period when we were not as visible to the broader community because we were always associated with education. Now that we are going through a rebirth process, we are placing an emphasis back on education and education programming.”

Muhammad has been a member of the Philadelphia Masjid for more than 35 years. He was married and raised three children there but he moved to California in 2008 and was away for almost 10 years. Upon his return, he began working in the CDC, leading efforts to build programs to empower the community.

“We have new leadership. The CDC existed as a seed but we have new leadership and he has a very extensive background in running CDCs, so his expertise, his zeal, his commitment has enabled the CDC to grow in leaps and bounds in just a year,” said Nurridin.

The Philadelphia Masjid still owns its property — 44,000 square feet, including the building and land. As the surrounding community develops, Muhammad said, the Masjid has a vision to develop as well, even as they receive countless offers.

“We get inquiries in the mail almost on a daily basis,” he said. “But nobody is bold enough to knock on the door.”

Muhammad emphasized that the Masjid is not interested in selling the property. Instead, they’ve designed a vision that calls for the Black independence and do-for-self mentality that distinguished them in their early history.

The development plans include multigenerational, affordable housing for seniors and first-time homebuyers, an early-childhood training center and a vocational training or building trades program.

One piece of the development that will be piloted this year is a culinary training program for high-school dropouts and ex-offenders, in partnership with YouthBuild.

“No one came from another city and started the [Philadelphia Masjid]. It’s African-American started. We own this building. That’s what made it special. And it’s the biggest one in Philadelphia,” said Khadijah Hameen, a member of the Masjid for 44 years.

Hameen remembered coming up as a Muslim girl in training when she joined the Masjid as a teenager. She wasn’t raised in the religion but she was inspired by the Muslim women in her community.

“I lived down the block from Muslims. They were in the Nation of Islam. I always liked the way they carried themselves, the way they dressed,” said Hameen.

She joined the Philadelphia Masjid when she was 18 and is still there, an active sister who distributes free food for members and the community.

But what’s been just as important to her as the family-like environment of the Philadelphia Masjid is the sense of empowerment that’s come from being a part of it.

“It made you love yourself more. You were able to have self-love, self-preservation,” she said. “We’ve always been here for each other. We know this is something we have built and it’s something that belongs to us and we are not giving it up. This is our establishment.”

Tauheedah Jihad, a member who joined the Philadelphia Masjid as a teenager and also came up as a Muslim girl in training, agreed.

“This is my home. This is where I started. We used to cook. I was selling [the publication] “Muhammad Speaks,” she said. “Since they first opened this Masjid, through thick and thin, we’ve been together. We will fight to the bitter end to hold this institution up.”

This article originally appeared in The Philadelphia Tribune

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Business

Gov. Newsom Signs Package of Laws Supporting Restaurants, Bars

California Gov. Gavin Newsom approved a COVID-19 recovery package Friday supporting small hospitality establishments around the state, including restaurants and bars.

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Oakland, CA, USA February 21, 2011 Folks enjoy a sunny day with al fresco dining at the historic Last Chance Saloon, made famous by author Jack London, in Oakland, California/ iStock

California Gov. Gavin Newsom approved a COVID-19 recovery package Friday supporting small hospitality establishments around the state, including restaurants and bars. 

Signed at a restaurant in Oakland, the legislative package includes Assembly Bill (AB) 61, Senate Bill (SB) 314 and SB 389 – bills that, among other provisions, extend COVID-19 special permissions like outdoor dining and to-go licenses for alcoholic beverages. 

Funding for the package will come out of the governor’s California Comeback Plan which allots $10.2 billion in small business support. So far, the state has spent $4 billion on an emergency grant program and $6.2 billion in tax relief for small businesses. 

“These innovative strategies have been a lifeline for hard-hit restaurants during the pandemic and today, we’re keeping the entrepreneurial spirit going so that businesses can continue to create exciting new opportunities and support vibrant neighborhoods across the state,” said Newsom. 

The state support comes at a time when many Black-owned small businesses in California, including restaurants, are struggling to recover after being hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) research, 13 % of Black-owned businesses have had to close down due to the pandemic, compared to 8% of White-owned ones. For Latino-owned businesses that number is even higher at 18 %. 

Due to the pandemic, Black businesses have experienced higher revenue loss, more layoffs of employees and less success in getting government funded relief like assistance from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. 

“We have all seen the fallout from the pandemic and recession and the effect on BIPOC people and BIPOC small businesses owners has been devastating,” said Tara Lynn Gray, Director of the California Office of the Small Business Advocate. She was speaking at an IGS event last week titled “Diversity and Entrepreneurship in California: An Undergraduate Research Symposium.”

“These are problems that have to be addressed. Access to capital continues to be a challenge,” Gray continued. “We are seeing bankers like Wells Fargo, Citi and JP Morgan Chase making significant investments in BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) small businesses, communities and individuals. That is a trend I would like to continue to see.”

Gray pointed out there are a number of state programs like the Small Business COVID-19 relief funds that prioritize providing relief funding to underserved businesses in the state. 

Authored by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino) and Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) respectively, AB 61 and SB 314 establish a one-year regulatory grace period for businesses operating under temporary COVID-19 licenses to get permanent expanded licenses, such as outdoor dining authorization.

The one-year grace period will begin once the pandemic emergency declaration has expired. 

“Outdoor dining has been a critical lifeline that has helped these establishments keep their doors open during these challenging times,” said Gabriel.

 “AB 61 provides important flexibility so that restaurants can safely expand outdoor dining and continue to serve the communities they call home. I applaud Governor Newsom for his thoughtful leadership in protecting both public health and small businesses as we continue to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Gabriel continued.

Wiener also stressed the importance of pandemic protocols for small businesses in California.

“SB 314 ensures the public can continue to enjoy outdoor dining with alcohol and that our small neighborhood businesses can continue to benefit from this change. The hospitality industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, and it’s important we make changes to modernize our entertainment and hospitality laws to allow them more flexibility and more ways to safely serve customers,” he said.  

SB 389 allows restaurants, breweries, wineries and bars that sell food to continue to sell to-go alcoholic beverages through Dec. 31, 2026.

“This is an important step toward helping our restaurants, which have been hit hard by the pandemic,” said Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa), SB 389’s author. 

“It will ensure their recovery, protecting jobs and our economy. I thank Gov. Newsom for supporting this new law,” he continued.

 

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Attorney General Bonta, CARB Seek to Defend Rule Limiting Warehouse Pollution in Disadvantaged Los Angeles and Inland Empire Communities

In recent years, the proliferation of e-commerce and rising consumer expectations of rapid shipping have contributed to a boom in warehouse development, particularly in Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. 

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Pipelines leading to an oil refinery

California Attorney General Rob Bonta and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) filed a motion  on Wednesday to intervene in support of South Coast Air Quality Management District’s (Air District) rule requiring warehouses to reduce emissions from heavy sources of on-road pollution that visit those warehouses.

The Air District’s rule regulates these “indirect sources” by requiring owners and operators of some of the largest warehouses in the state to take direct action to mitigate their emissions.   This will reduce air pollution in Los Angeles and the Inland Empire, help California meet state and federal air quality standards, improve the health of our communities, and promote environmental justice.

Last month, the California Trucking Association filed a lawsuit challenging the rule as outside the scope of the Air District’s authority, pre-empted by federal law, and an unlawful tax. In defending the rule, Attorney General Bonta and CARB expect to argue that these claims are meritless and that state and federal law supports the Air District’s authority to adopt the Indirect Source Rule.

“California has long been a pioneer in the fight against climate change – and the Air District’s rule limiting warehouse pollution is no exception,” said Bonta. “The fact is: environmental justice and economic development are not mutually exclusive. There is no binary choice here. The Air District’s Indirect Source Rule will have tremendous benefits for those communities hardest hit by pollution, at a relatively low cost to industry.”

“This is an environmental justice and public health issue,” said CARB Chair Liane M. Randolph. “The communities around these huge warehouse facilities have suffered for years from the effects of businesses and freight haulers who have all but ignored the community impacts of their enterprises. This Indirect Source Rule simply requires them to be much better neighbors. The rule is also part and parcel of local clean air plans developed under Assembly Bill 617 with CARB and South Coast staff, local residents, local businesses and other stakeholders to clean the air in and around these high-traffic routes and locations.”

In recent years, the proliferation of e-commerce and rising consumer expectations of rapid shipping have contributed to a boom in warehouse development, particularly in Los Angeles and the Inland Empire.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this trend, as consumers have shifted away from in-person retail shopping. Unfortunately, the distribution of warehouse facilities — and resulting pollution — has occurred primarily in low-income communities and communities of color.

Once a new warehouse is built, the facilities and their associated activities, such as truck traffic, can cause a variety of negative impacts affecting public health. For example, diesel trucks visiting warehouses are substantial sources of nitrogen oxide — a primary precursor to smog formation that has been linked to respiratory problems like asthma, bronchitis, and lung irritation — and diesel particulate matter — a contributor to cancer, heart disease, respiratory illnesses, and premature death.

The Air District’s Indirect Source Rule requires existing and new warehouse facilities larger than 100,000 square feet to select from a menu of emissions-reducing activities, such as purchasing zero-emission vehicles, installing air filtration systems in nearby residences, and constructing rooftop solar panels.

A copy of the motion is available here.

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Oakland Native Serves in Navy’s ‘Silent Service’ of Submarine Technology

A major component of that maritime security is homeported at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga., where Zeigler is stationed.

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Justin Ziegler

An Oakland native is serving aboard USS Florida, one of the world’s most advanced nuclear-powered submarines.

Fireman Justin Zeigler, a 2008 Life Academy High School graduate and 2017 University of California, Los Angeles graduate, joined the Navy one year ago.

“I joined the Navy to be a part of something new and completely outside of what I had been exposed to,” said Zeigler. “I really wanted to challenge myself. and I feel the core values of the Navy represent what I strive for.”

Today, Zeigler serves as a machinist’s mate whose responsibilities include working on nuclear propulsion machinery.
According to Zeigler, the values required to succeed in the military are similar to those found in Oakland.

“I learned resilience from my hometown,” said Zeigler. “I think that’s been a part of my life and childhood. It’s what’s keeping me going while serving in the Navy.”

Known as America’s “Silent Service,” the Navy’s submarine force operates a large fleet of technically advanced vessels. These submarines are capable of conducting rapid defensive and offensive operations around the world, in furtherance of U.S. national security.

There are three basic types of submarines: fast-attack submarines (SSN), ballistic-missile submarines (SSBN) and guided-missile submarines (SSGN).

As a member of the submarine force, Zeigler is part of a rich 121-year history of the U.S. Navy’s most versatile weapons platform, capable of taking the fight to the enemy in the defense of America and its allies.
Serving in the Navy means Zeigler is part of a team that is taking on new importance in America’s focus on rebuilding military readiness, strengthening alliances and reforming business practices in support of the National Defense Strategy.

“The submarine force is always out there ready to strike,” said Zeigler.

With more than 90% of all trade traveling by sea, and 95% of the world’s international phone and internet traffic carried through underwater fiber optic, Navy officials continue to emphasize that the prosperity and security of the United States is directly linked to a strong and ready Navy.

A major component of that maritime security is homeported at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga., where Zeigler is stationed.

As Zeigler and other sailors continue to train and perform the missions they are tasked with, they take pride in serving their country in the United States Navy.

“Serving in the Navy means being a part of something more than myself,” added Zeigler. “I’m committing to my team, always striving to be better and bringing more to the table.”

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