NEWARK, NJ — When minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam came to Newark on Monday, May 23, to speak at Metropolitan Baptist Church on Springfield Avenue, Rasheed Williams made sure to be in the audience.
A resident of Irvington and a practicing Muslim, Williams is also a grassroots organizer representing the former Team Irvington social and political organization and its successor, Team Irvington Strong.
“I went down there to represent Team Irvington Strong; I don’t know if I was the only person from Irvington,” Williams said Tuesday, May 24. “It was a blessing to see Minister Farrakhan. I got a front row seat and I sat amongst the dignitaries. I was sitting with the councilwoman from Elizabeth; the mayor of Orange was there.”
Williams said Farrakhan drew hundreds of people, who were packed inside Metropolitan Church to hear what he had to say, and they weren’t disappointed.
“The minister gave a message for everyone,” Williams said. “He gave a good message that we should get together and support our mayor. The message was: stand up and be men in our community. Respect our adults and our women. Don’t be punks, because politics can mess you up.”
Williams said he really took Farrakhan’s words to heart about supporting a local elected leader trying to do the right thing for his constituents, since it reminded him of Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss.
“Our Mayor Tony Vauss is the same way: He’s fighting for the people,” said Williams. “Minister Farrakhan said, in the political arena, they try to buy you, but we’ve got to fight for what’s right. That’s how it is in politics.”
Williams also said, “It was a sight to see the minister, going into Ramadan,” after all of the personal trials and tribulations he’s experienced with health issues recently. He said he’s got a lot to be thankful for, too.
“Ramadan starts June 7 until July 7; I’m fasting,” said Williams. “I’ve got a lot to be thankful for as a Muslim, because of what I’ve been through. I’m glad to be walking. I walked in and helped Sandy Jones in her campaign in the South Ward. I helped Richard Williams get re-elected to the Board of Education and he got more votes than anyone else in the election and they were running unopposed. Richard got more votes than Joseph Sylvain got. So Team Irvington Strong is getting stronger and stronger.”
Farrakhan said he came to Newark on behalf of Mayor Ras Baraka, who came under fire recently for marching with protestors at Port Newark to demand more jobs for residents from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and for tackling issues such as lead in schoolchildren’s water.
“I came here tonight to stand for my brother; to stand for his mother; to stand for his family; to stand for you,” said Farrakhan on Monday, May 23. “That’s why I’m here tonight. I heard that (Baraka) went to the Port Authority and he told them ‘we have a contract with you and you’re only giving us one-third of what that contract specifies, so you’re robbing the city of Newark that I’m mayor over and I could give my people more services if you came up with your part. The contract says this, you’ve got to give us this.’”
According to Farrakhan, this rubbed the powers that be the wrong way. He said those forces are now trying to destroy “the myth mayor” by spreading rumors, innuendo and outright lies about Baraka among those he serves, and he needs help to keep the city on the progressive course he has set since he was sworn into office in 2014.
“Brother Ras has been the mayor for a little over a year now, going on two years,” said Farrakhan. “Boy, time rolls. And look at what he’s trying to do. He’s trying to improve the quality of life of the citizens of Newark. He used to work to bring the Bloods and the Crips together, to stop us from killing each other, and he invited me to come and mediate and help, in that regard. He needs us now. He needs us to be men. He wants to create jobs, so you don’t have to slave for others. He’s the mayor. He needs our help.”
Larry Hamm of the People’s Organization for Progress was one of the hundreds who came to hear Farrakhan speak, and said he was glad he did.
“I’m glad he came to support the mayor,” said Hamm on Tuesday, May 24. “The mayor’s been in the struggle with some of the other institutions and agencies in our area, like the Port Authority. A couple of weeks ago, he led a march down there to protest the lack of hiring of minorities. I’ve also been informed that he’s been receiving death threats. It’s a matter of public record.”
Hamm said it made sense for Farrakhan to come to Newark to offer comfort and support to Baraka, because, “The minister had been an associate of Amiri Baraka,” father of the Newark mayor. He said both Farrakhan and Amiri Baraka were comrades in the Black Liberation movement of the late 1960s and 1970s.
“There’s a history there; I’m glad he came and voiced his support for the mayor,” said Hamm of Farrakhan. “The mayor is facing daunting challenges. The challenges of being mayor are really bearing down on him. That (is) compounded by the economic challenges the city is going through during this time of economic stress and austerity. It’s affecting not just Newark, but cities all over the country. I personally think he is doing a good job. I count myself among his supporters and I’m going to continue supporting him through the rest of this first term.”
Hamm went on to describe Farrakhan as “one of the great public speakers” who is “also a historical figure, who was there back in the Nation of Islam when Malcolm X was there.”
“In fact, Malcolm X bought him in and mentored him,” said Hamm. “Minister Farrakhan is an internationally recognized figure. He packed out Metropolitan Church. It was standing room only. They had video feed into the sanctuary; that was packed. They had video feed into the dining hall; that was packed. I would venture to say there were at least 2,000 people last night.”
According to Hamm, Farrakhan “gave an obviously inspiring speech,” and said he was “glad he came and urged support for the mayor.”