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Ebony S. Muhammad (EM): You are going into your 3rd annual Black Male Summit on November 17th . What inspired you to begin this special seminar for young boys and men?
Deric Muhammad (DM): Growing up in the inner-city without a father, myself, I realized how easy it was for me to relate the young Black males who are growing up under same or similar circumstances. My role as a justice advocate usually calls for me to come to their defense in a time of trouble. I wanted to make sure that I do more to impart the knowledge that has been so freely given to me to them. We want to get to them BEFORE they get into trouble so that there is no need for us to be there after they get into trouble. I call it “proactivism.” I grew up under the “three-thirds” dynamic. A third of my friends that I grew up with are dead. Another third is incarcerated and the other third are just trying to make it. These are not numbers that I am willing to accept. We must make Black males to know that there is a better way.
EM: Why did you choose to focus on education?
DM: The Schott Foundation for Public Education released some interesting statistics this year. Only 52% of Black males graduate from high school in four years. To add to that, we must ask ourselves how many of that 52% graduate functionally illiterate? The number one enemy in the Black community is no longer the White man. The number one enemy in the Black community is ignorance. It is an enemy that we must take on and overpower if we are ever to reach the rendezvous with destiny given to us by God himself.
The scripture teaches “My people perish for the lack of knowledge.” It is properly applied knowledge that will resurrect the Black male from spiritual, mental, social, economic and political death. The brother Tyrese Gibson said it like this: “We have to make being smart ‘sexy’ again.” Not my choice of words, but I agree with his sentiment.
Lastly, we must consider the aforementioned statistics and look at the reality that the educational system in America was not designed to free the minds of young Black males. Therefore we must redefine what true education represents for Black boys and men in this day and time if the lion who is asleep in Judah is ever to be awakened.
EM: How has the summit evolved over the past three years? What are you seeking to accomplish during the 3rd annual?
DM: I am very proud of the evolutionary path that this summit is taking. A child’s third step is always stronger than his second. And his second step is always stronger than his first. Our third summit is expected to be our most powerful and impactful summit yet. We want this summit to embody what a particular author, whose name I can’t recollect, calls a “Wow experience”.
Our goal is to inspire Black males to pursue the attainment of knowledge “by any means necessary.” We believe that learning takes place inside the classroom and outside of the classroom. We want them to know that higher education is in the very DNA of the Black man. We are laying the base for this year’s summit to be a life-changing experience for our participants. We are grateful to Allah for the opportunity to serve. As a child of God I have privileges…the greatest of which is to serve.
EM: Although this seminar is for males, what has the response been like from women, especially the mothers of the young boys?
DM: The response from women has been phenomenal. Seventy percent (70%) of the homes in the Black community are headed by women. The majority of Black boys are being raised by their mothers and grandmothers, just like I was. They understand the need for programs like this just as much or more than Black men. We encourage our sisters to come on out and hear what we have to say.
Many sisters have already signed up as volunteers. They wish to play a supporting role in the war to save the Black male. The mothers of young boys are ecstatic about this opportunity for their boys to be in an environment with positive Black men. They are grateful for the “Smart’n Up” Black Male Summit and we are grateful for them.
EM: How do you select the workshop topics within the summit, and how are you able to gauge whether any of the previous attendees utilized the tools and benefited?
DM: As a year round activist I try to keep my ear to the streets and my finger on the pulse of what’s going on with our current generation. I look at trends, statistics, etc. But, more importantly, I speak with many Black males who, for whatever reasons, tend to open up to me.
From my personal interactions with my people I develop a needs assessment. I take a look at what needs to be taught to Black males that they can never learn in a traditional classroom setting. From there, we choose our workshop topics. And “YES”, we are able to somewhat gauge the progress of past attendees. For instance, I was told by a young brother that his experience at our first summit inspired him to go back to school. He says he almost has his associates’ degree and he wanted to thank us. There are many others who have offered testimony. All praise is due to Allah (God).
EM: What Black male has had the strongest impact on you and why?
DM: A very special man by the name of Louis Farrakhan has had the strongest impact on me, because his life and the sacrifice that it has became is the greatest example of legendary love for Black people and humanity, in general. He is greatly misunderstood; but, what servant of God isn’t? He is nearing his 80th birthday and his passionate work ethic for Freedom, Justice and Equality still makes him to move at a relentless pace. Young brothers like myself can hardly keep up with him. As a baby cub he is the lion that taught me, and millions like me who never had a father, how to “roar.” There are others who have had a profound impact on me, as well. But, since you asked for just one I will leave it at that.
EM: What is in your arsenal of literature?
DM: I am currently rereading the Miseducation of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson. I have my children reading it right now, as well. I finally picked up The New Jim Crow by my Sister Michelle Alexander. What a great offering about mass incarceration and modern day slavery. I strive to read the Holy Quran every day and I study the Bible often. I am always feeding on Message to the Blackman in America (Hon. Elijah Muhammad), which is the book that has had the greatest impact on my life. Other books in my arsenal include The Fall of America, The Secrets of Effective Leadership, The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews and the list goes on. I enjoyed both of the official biographies of Fidel Castro (entitled “My Life”) and I enjoyed Steve Jobs’ life story as well. Don’t get me started talking about books. I am a nerd to the second power. I love to learn.
EM: You made an amazing announcement during the first annual Black Male Summit that you were going back to school for your degree in Finance. How are things progressing with that, and what have you learned about yourself along the way that you can share with those who are unsure about college?
DM: Yes ma’am, I made that announcement at the first summit and, with God’s help, I have made my word bond so far. At the time I was keeping a grueling schedule and I realized that I did not have the time to read and study like I should. I was very dissatisfied with that. I went back to school; not necessarily to get a degree, but I felt I needed to put myself back into an environment of learning. I knew absolutely nothing about attending college. They had to walk me through everything. I never set foot on a college campus in my life except to make mischief (lol). Then, after becoming a Muslim, I only went to college campuses to speak. So it was very interesting sitting in a classroom again.
Already under a demanding schedule as a community watchman, I had to make some major adjustments. But by the grace of Allah (God) we grabbed the bull by the horns and we are still on the path that we set out on two years ago. I look at Brother Robert Muhammad, the Student Southwest Regional Minister of the Nation of Islam who is just around the corner from receiving a doctorate degree. With so much on his plate, he decided he would continue his education and he stuck with it. Our message to Black men is that you are never too old to learn. If you have the desire to return to the classroom then you can do it. If the classroom is not for you then you must develop the habit of reading good material that will enrich your life. The only time a human being should stop learning is when he has stopped breathing.
EM: What are your thoughts about taking this summit to other cities? Have invitations been extended?
DM: It’s interesting that you ask, because I just got off of a phone call with a brother from Alabama who is trying to duplicate what God is blessing us to do with Smart’n Up. I am definitely interested in bringing the summit to other cities. We have been invited to some cities and many others have shown interest. It can be very difficult to take such a program on the road when in Houston we have approximately a million Black people. The need is so great here I can hardly get out of town to share what we have with others. But, as we become more organized we will be able to travel more often….if it be the will of Allah (God). Thank you for your questions.
EM: Thank YOU for everything you do for our community! May Allah bless you all with a successful 3rd Annual Black Male Summit and in ALL you do of good!
Connect with Deric Muhammad on Twitter and Facebook @DericMuhammad. Visit him online at www.dericmuhammad.com .
Individuals and groups may register online at www.BlackMaleSummit2012.EventBrite.com. For more information, please call Alicia Jackson (832) 338-6719 or contact Deric Muhammad directly at (713)539-1079.