Bernard Hopkins: American Hero and Champion

bhop

I am a huge fan of the sport of boxing. Yet seldom do I root for any one fighter. When I am asked “who do you want to win” my answer is always the same: “I don’t care who wins I just want to see a good competitive fight”. Bernard Hopkins is the exception.

At 48 years old Hopkins became the oldest man to ever hold a major title by defeating light-heavyweight beltholder Tavoris Cloud at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. He broke his own record. The story of Hopkins is a man who has defied father time, doesn’t seem to age, and outsmarts younger and quicker opponents. There is more to the story though.

Hopkins grew up on the mean streets of Germantown North Philadelphia. At an early age, like many of his peers, Hopkins got caught up in a life on the streets. Strong-armed robbery was Hopkins game. It is easy to judge and say he should have stayed in school and in his amateur boxing gym: but you are talking about a young man from a highly dysfunctional home growing up in poverty and some of the meanest streets in America.  This does not excuse his behavior it only gives it context.

Like most who turn to a life of crime, and many from his neighborhood, Hopkins ended up in prison. At age seventeen he began serving a five-year sentence at the notorious Grateford Prison in Pennsylvania. Hopkins witnessed rapes, murders, and countless acts of violence. It was only through his conversion to Islam and taking up the boxing program that Hopkins was able to stay clean and begin turning his life around from behind bars. Notice what I said: Islam and boxing. A religion that has turned so many lives around from behind the walls and boxing a sport that has turned lives around. It is ironic that prisons in the post-911 era have often developed a hostile attitude toward their Muslim prisoners and almost all prisons have cut their boxing programs. Hopkins left prison never to return. Never to go back to his old life and forever leaving behind him his old ways. This is an inspiration to the millions of prisoners and ex-offenders in America.  Wardens should be inviting Hopkins to speak at such juvenile detention centers, county jails and prisons.

In his first professional fight Hopkins lost. He could have gave up: but he found the legendary trainer Bouie Fischer who taught him boxing and guided him to a middleweight championship. While Hopkins went on to defend the middleweight crown a record twenty times he was overshadowed in the 90’s and even much of the 00’s by Roy Jones, Jr., and James Toney. It was only in 2001 when Hopkins destroyed the heavily-favored Felix Trinidad at Madison Square Garden in front of a Puerto Rican crowd did Hopkins finally get his just due. By that time Hopkins was already getting old. Little did the public know the party was just getting started.

Hopkins has went on to have big wins into his 40’s. This time under the guidance of Brother Naazim Richardson a fellow Muslim brother from Philly who himself has inspired many by overcoming a serious medical-condition to train at the elite-level. How is he able to do this? Let’s start with the facts he doesn’t, drink, smoke, get high, eat sweets, eat junk foods, hang out in the streets, stay out late in night clubs and approaches boxing as a 24-7 lifestyle. He doesn’t get out of shape after fights and then have to cut weight in training. Hopkins is always in fighting shape. Wear and tear is not wasting in the gym with meaningless “Philly gym wars” he saves his energy. Most importantly Hopkins has a “boxing IQ” that is off the charts. Quite simply, like many other elite-fighters, he outthinks his opponents. While they are playing Asteroids he is playing Call of Duty. This is the model for all young boxers. If you want a long and successful career, and you have the goods, emulate this. If you want a short career make it rain at the strip clubs, buy a bunch of stuff you don’t need, get multiple child-support cases, drink and get high between fights, and surround yourself with violence and criminals.

Finally, not only is Hopkins a role-model for troubled urban youth, ex-offenders and young boxers, B-Hop is also a role-model for fitness in America. At 48 B-Hop is in elite condition and as we are all getting older, including myself, we can take inspiration from his discipline and physical condition.

St. Louis Muslims, City Hall and the Mayoral Election

In 1992 there were two mosques in St. Louis. Masjid al-Mu’minun on Grand and Cass in North St. Louis and the Islamic Center on West Pine and Vandeventer in Midtown.  Masjid al-Mu’minun catered to the African-American Sunni-orthodox believers under the leadership of Imam Warith-deen Mohammed and the Islamic Center catered to the Muslim immigrant population under the leadership of the Sudanese Islamic-scholar Sheikh Muhammad Nur Abdullah. In addition to this there were places operated by pseudo-Islamic groups: but for the sake of this discussion I will focus on those within the bounds of Islamic orthodoxy.

St. Louis has never been a hotbed of Islam. The indigenous African-American community still lags generations behind the East Coast in terms of development and the immigrant Muslim community is a generation behind the times comparatively speaking to many other cities.   However, things are changing and they are changing fast and with that come opportunities and challenges.

Today there are at least 28 mosques in the St. Louis Metropolitan area. From 2 to 28 in 20 years-that is massive growth.  Several of these mosques, and the largest concentration of Muslims, are in the city of St. Louis. Along with mosques Muslims have opened up a plethora of businesses. Whereas in the 1990’s it was hard to find a store selling halal meat or a restaurant serving halal meals there are now numerous options within the city of St. Louis. This population has been fueled by refugee populations moving to primarily South St. Louis, an increase in Muslim conversions and second and third generations in the African-American community, and Muslim professionals coming to St. Louis for school and employment.

Recognizing this growth the campaigns of Mayor Francis Slay and Alderman Lewis Reed reached out to the Muslim community in the recent mayoral election. Yet the way these two men approached the issue was remarkably different and this made a difference at the polls. Mr. Reed had as his point-man in the Muslim community either obscure figures representing the teachers-union or controversial figures outside of the mainstream of the community. The teachers-union representative advocates positions that are not that popular within the Muslim community. Muslim families, like non-Muslim families, are leaving the city for the suburbs over the issues of public schools. Those who can afford to do so often choose to send their children to the two private Muslim schools operating in West St. Louis County. Most religious Muslims you talk to, in particular traditional Muslims, support voucher programs which would allow poor and working-class families to send their kids to private Muslims schools. This is a position advocated by former Missouri State Representative Rodney Hubbard (who is also a Muslim). Neither mayoral candidate supported school choice, that’s fine I get that, but why send someone as a point man to Muslims who instead of representing issues that are important to Muslims represents an unpopular position? Furthermore, someone who while not advocating for Muslims, surrounds himself with controversial figures and resorts to thuggish behavior?

Alderman Reed passed the word around the Muslim community that, if elected, he would be creating a Department of Muslim Affairs at City Hall. The fact that this is unconstitutional and had zero chances of actually happening seemed to not bother those repeating this line.

What did Mayor Slay do? As he has done during his entire administration he reached out to known and mainstream figures within the Muslim community, held meetings with imams and attended a Muslim dinner. The people Mayor Slay spoke to within the Muslim community were Muslims speaking about issues important to Muslims. Furthermore, they are Muslims who are known and respected within the community. This paid off big for Mayor Slay at the polls. The Mayor made no false promises, no line about a Department of Muslim Affairs; rather he spoke about outreach to the Muslim community through a Diversity Officer and other departments of the city. Along with the support of leading figures within the Muslim community Mayor Slay also received the support of Muslim elected officials such as State Senator Jamillah Nasheed and former State Representative Rodney Hubbard.

Today Muslims can be found all over St. Louis from north to south. Muslim shopkeepers and cabbies, physicians at Barnes-Jewish, jummah prayers at the SLU chapel, restaurants in north and south city, and many public schools with a large percentage of Muslim students. Muslim immigrant populations have revitalized south side neighborhoods in decline and indigenous Muslims have been at the forefront of many positive developments in North St. Louis.

However, at the same time, there are also a set of challenges associated with the Muslim community. Halal food and religious needs at schools and hospitals, cultural issues surrounding gender-relations regarding interactions with police, extremist groups recruiting immigrant youth, having successful transitions for prison converts, guarding against Islamophobia, etc.

In order for St. Louis to successfully face these challenges the city needs to work with people who know the community and know the issues. In years past City Hall may have reached out to organizations based in West St. Louis County for issues pertaining to city Muslims: but what does someone in Ladue know about the condition of Muslims on Newstead and Natural Bridge or Hickory and Ohio?  The city needs to reach out to city Muslims for city solutions.  Muslims are a part of the fabric of St. Louis and within our mosques are those committed to the growth and prosperity of this city. In this we need a strong partner in City Hall and that is why many of us came to the conclusion to “Pray Like a Mantis and Vote For Francis” ( remember the general election is still in April).

Slay Day, Hubbard Wins and Quick Thoughts

Quick Thoughts on the St. Louis Democratic Primary:

Mayor Francis Slay won as I expected. I did not expect this race to be close and as a matter of fact I bet Alderman Antonio French Slay would win and local bar owner Steve Smith Slay would win by 20. OK, so I got a little carried away with 20: but at the end of the day Mayor Slay won by a comfortable margin. St. Louis voters opted  not to neglect the path to prosperity with a detour into uncertainty. The best mayor anyone in St. Louis has seen in their lifetime was elected to a historic fourth term. Alderman Lewis Reed, gracious in defeat, noted that the media focused too much on the racial-angle as Brother Anthony Shahid, always a man who approaches race with the utmost sensitivity, nodded in agreement. As a city we can now look forward to four more years of progress and staying the course. I was particularly happy during his speech Mayor Slay stated St. Louis would welcome immigrants and look forward to seeing the policies behind that.

Ward 5

If you want to write a book on “ground game” you can call it the Hubbard Diary. That family, plain and simple, knows how to get out the vote. Tamikka Hubbard was victorious over her opponent Michelle Hutchins-Medina. The Hubbard victory happened despite the fact that Hutchins-Medina seemed to be very well-funded and bombarded the ward with mailings. The day before the election I received a mailing at my home containing photos of Alderwoman Hubbard partying taken from her Facebook page. A rather juvenile action if you ask me and one that whoever paid for it didn’t even have the courage to stand on as it had no attribution.  Why did Hubbard win? Plain and simple: people know her and know her family and feel they will look out for them. Hutchins-Medina could not ride the wave the more upscale crowd, loft-dwellers, and the like in the ward have for Hubbard to victory. The fact of the matter is despite her money she could walk the streets of the ward and nobody would know who she was.

Ward 21

Congrats to Alderman Antonio French. In St. Louis there is scant coverage of local and state politics so all of the information was not out there. The city still has no guidelines for the usage of police cameras and as Mr. French has used them for private political purposes before who is to say he will not do it again. A city employee told me if Mr. French wants to shoot a porno with them he is free to do so. Anyway, it is what it is, and God bless brother Kerry Wilson. Kerry is a good man and tried his hardest. No shame in his game.

Ward 1

Sharon Tyus aka her Highness is back. Please say a prayer for a ward I used to live in. They are going to need it.

Ward 6

Congrats to Christine Ingrassia. I don’t really follow south side politics all that tough but if Virvus and Tishaura Jones say you are good then you must be OK.

Shadeed Muhammad, Luqman Ahmad: Sincerity, a Relevant Islam and Jamaat

There is something I have been thinking about for a very long time and just have not been able to put into words. Finally, as two men from different camps within Sunni Islam make the news I am led to write about this issue. Imam Luqman Ahmad is a Philadelphia native, generational American-Muslim with a classical understanding and currently the imam of Masjid Ibrahim in Sacramento, CA. Over the past few years he has built up a large online following from those, including myself, who seek his words of wisdom and examination of the social and religious issues within the indigenous American-Muslim community. Imam Luqman represents a Sunni mathabi viewpoint which will often be associated with Sufism. Recently he has written a book titled The Devils Deception of the Modern Day Salafi Sect which I plan to purchase.

The second man is Imam Shadeed Muhammad the east coast  Salafi imam in Philly who has been put “off the minhaj” by the likes of Imam Ike Dawud Adib and the Golden Child Abdul-Hasan Malik and was forced to take his talents to South Philly bolstered by his base of niqaabi supporters.  (When I pay attention to him and Dawud Adib it reminds me of the LL Cool J-Canibus beef. Canibus said to LL “99% of your fans in high-heels” and that’s our brother Shadeed but LL responded to Canibus “99% of your fans don’t exist” and that’s Imam Ike and his ilk).  Imam Shadeed Muhammad has recently penned an expose of the foolishness and predatory behavior amongst Salafi leaders in a piece called The Elephant in the Room.

As most of my readers know I was educated by Salafi teachers and identified with that Dawah for years. I chronicled my experiences in that movement in the award-winning Rise and Fall of The Salafi Movement series. In thirty years of strong Dawah in America it is safe to say Salafeeyah has built nothing. No schools, no institutions, no strong communities, few strong families and few masjids that haven’t split over petty issues. The only Salafai leader to establish a strong community on a real mission is Abu Muslima in East Orange, NJ and out of hatred and petty jealousy he was torn down by the same type of morons who are attacking Shadeed Muhammad today.

It is safe to say that amongst indigenous American-Muslims salafeeyah to a large extent has become a movement dominated by dreams of hijrah that never happen, predatory sex perverts as imams, the highest divorce-rate in America, broken homes, criminality, pissed-off niqaabis headed to the pole, and rebellious kids who grew up in the drama with brothers fighting and dividing over “who is on it”. This is a movement that holds very little attraction to educated people, the middle-class or those who just want to live a drama-free life. Anytime I enter such a masjid I feel like I am entering a penal environment and the socialization skills are equivalent to that of a prison rec room and I don’t advise brothers to attend such spots unarmed.

I do not want people to counter with “Salafis in Saudi Arabia are not like this” or “look at the Almaghrib Institute”. I do not live in Saudi Arabia or any other foreign country and the likes of Yasir Qadhi and Omar Suleiman do not know the plight of the grassroots indigenous, do not know the community, and have nothing to do with it. Their mission is in the suburbs with Desi and Arab kids and may Allah grant them success. The fact of the matter is what I described above is the culture that dominates Salafeeyah in America amongst the indigenous Muslim community (and that is not even the offshoots like the takfiri jihadi drug-delaers we have in St. Louis).

So, is this an anti-Salafi rant? No, it is not, because I have dear friends that are Salafi who are raising good children and are valuable assets to our community. I would go to battle for them in a minute. Nor was the Rise and Fall an anti-Salafi rant as some portrayed it. However, I did fall into such talk years later after being slandered, threatened and seeing the damage many Salafis have done. Whether I like it though, or anyone else does, the Salafi Dawah is not going anywhere, so those of us not “on the Dawah” have to learn to make some sort of peace with it.

For me personally I am not caught up on whether someone is Salafi or Sufi and the whole Bloods and Crips debate. That is a foreign debate Arabs brought to Islam in America which will never result in a positive outcome and only keep the fitnah up. If someone can benefit from Salafi imams like Shadeed Muhammad and Abu Muslima I say alhamdulilah if it makes them a better Muslim and strengthens our community.  My opposition to the likes of Dawud Adib and others is not that they are Salafis: but rather they stir fitnah, drive people out of the deen, and ruin lives. If someone can be Salafi without those negative traits then I have no problem with that. Allah is all-Knowing, He knows where He is, I do not need to argue about it. I know Abu Muslima is sincere and has built a strong community and it seems as if Shadeed Muhammad is doing this same thing.

Personally I have a great love in my heart for Imam Luqman Ahmad, Imam Abdullah bin Hamid Ali, Suhaib Webb and most especially the young talent and a real treasure of our ummah Ubaydullah Evans. These imams have their finger on the pulse and don’t just have book knowledge: but also know the people and have the ability to connect with the masses. If people can read their writing and follow their naseeha this community could dramatically improve.

Why is this not happening? Most of us are looking in the wrong direction. These collectives, institutes, and celebrity imams are not set up to address the needs of the grassroots indigenous. They are designed for the middle and upper classes and for immigrant Muslims and their children. These organizations and imams are not applicable to indigenous Islam in America. They do not share our mission.  Therefore instead of being mesmerized by people who don’t know you and where you are from look towards those who know your struggle, who can sit down and give Dawah to your uncle, who can talk to the brothers at college and those in prison. They do not teach this in al-Azhar, Mecca or Medinah. You have to be from the people to know the people. This is not a Salafi thing, a Sufi thing, a Taabliqui thing; it is a Muslim thing and a human thing.

All of our children are facing the same struggles. WE have youth rebelling and leaving the deen and fitnah in all segments of the community. What is most important is not whether we should follow a mathab or do we follow a Saudi or Pakistani sheikh: but can we address the social and cultural needs of the community and build viable communities that last into the future? For me I lean towards Sunni Islam and some aspects of tasawaf and follow a mathab: but if you don’t we still Muslim brothers and sisters. What is the difference on these issues in the grand scheme of things? Whether you go to the WD masjid, the Salafi masjid, or a Sufi Masjid, we are all in this together.

With all of the wise words of our imams whether it be Luqman Ahmad, Abdullah Ali or Shadeed Muhammad one thing is certain: without establishing organizations and institutions nothing will be able to get done in a systematic manner. Indigenous Muslims don’t have tribes, we don’t come from Muslim countries, we don’t have strong networks of support, we need to establish jamaats that can become our tribes and extended families. Jamaats so we can marry one another and bury one another. Jamaats so discipline can be instilled and to end fatwa-shopping and freelancing. With any jamaat there is bayah and our major imams need to step to the plate and answer the call of history and call for bayah. And what is bayah without establishing Muslim neighborhoods and villages? The call will be coupled with the call for Muslims to leave small and weak communities and make migration to emerging Muslim communities where you can walk to the masjid and live within the jamaat. You don’t live in a good neighborhood if you can’t walk to a masjid. That suburban cul-de-sac is worthless if you are the only Muslim on the block and you have to drive 15, 20 or 30 minutes to a masjid. Jamaat, bayayh, and population-clustering leads to communities that can nurture our children and future generations.

The Dar al Islam, Islamic Party and later the Muslims of the Americas and Community of Imam Jamil al-Amin knew this and that is why those have been the most successful organizations in American-Muslim history. We have a young generation of educated Muslims, Salafi and Sufi, who got a lot of book knowledge but can’t build nothing.  They are looking for some Saudi or Egyptian sheikh to tell them how to create a successful community in Florida or Georgia and often using that book knowledge to attack the pioneers of Islam in America as proponents of “liberation theology”.  That is madness.

Younger converts are entering Islam through foreign doors. Especially in the smaller communities. With that they are taking on some of the pathologies and deviance within the immigrant Muslim community and often seek to imitate Arabs or Desis. I say the immigrant Muslim mission is different. Like every immigrant they seek the mainstream (often at all costs). The indigenous Muslim mission is one of standing on the sideline and calling the mainstream to the haqq with no need to enter it. Yes, we are all Muslim, but we have different needs and different missions.

So, I join the call of my respected brother Akil Fahd in Detroit, and call to bayah and jammat. Less bickering and fighting over stuff that doesn’t matter and more community-building and supporting those imams who can address our social and cultural needs without forsaking the beliefs of Quran and Sunnah.  Because, make no mistake about it, we are at a critical stage and our community is in intensive care.

Mayor Slay, Lewis Reed and The Real Deal With St. Louis

If you live in Florissant and Afton and you are a responsible or even semi-responsible adult and concerned citizen chances are you cannot names the mayors of Cheserfield, University City, Ferguson, Berkeley or Kirkwood. Chances are though you can name the mayor of St. Louis. The city is the heart of the region and even if you do not live in the city your family roots probably trace back to the city. If you are in North County or St. Charles County chances are your roots are in North St. Louis and if you are in South County or Jefferson County chances are high your roots are in South St. Louis. People pay attention to the officer of city mayor as whoever sits in room 200 becomes a spokesman for the area. So, as we head to the polls this Tuesday for the Democratic Primary we will not only be electing the leader of the city in this one-party town we will also be electing the leader of this region. Will Mayor Francis Slay be elected to an unprecedented fourth term or will the challenger Lewis Reed upset his plans to make history? This race is also a referendum on the state and condition of St. Louis so it is a good time to asses where we are. So, let us take a look at the major issues in the race:

Mayor Francis Slay: Pros and Cons

Mayor Francis Slay of St. Louis with a Somali-Muslim schoolgirl

Mayor Francis Slay of St. Louis with a Somali-Muslim schoolgirl

I view Mayor Francis Slay as an old-school South St. Louis machine-politician who has come to office at a unique transformational time in the history of the city of St. Louis and literally went through a transformation on the job. I celebrated the night in 1993 Freeman Bosley, Jr. became the first African-American mayor of the city of St. Louis and I mourned his loss in 1997 and voted for Bosley again in 2001. To me Bosley was the man who could have brought St. Louis out of our poor state of race relations. Having lived around the country I can definitely say I have never been anywhere with worse race-relations than St. Louis. Everything in this city is black and white and the seat of racism, the Selma of St. Louis, has traditionally been deep South St. Louis. It just so happened that the deep South Side is the political-base of Mayor Slay so I did not vote for him when he first ran and did not trust him for years.

Over the years I have watched Mayor Slay and have had to admire his leadership and the cities growth under his watch. At first I said to myself “this is some kind of a trick” and this Lebanese South Side Hoosier Catholic schoolboy must have something up his sleeve. I did not believe a South Side Machine politician could actually want a diverse and inclusive city and I remembered the white rage at the election of Mayor Bosely and the uproar the white-establishment had at just giving up a little bit of power. Yet year after year I have watched Mayor Slay consistently reach out and embrace the diversity of this city.

The pros are obvious. As a teenager when I would catch the 74 West Florissant bus to Washington and Tucker to shop at Gus’s I got out to a seen of boarded up buildings and complete desolation. I vividly remember turning around 14th and Washington when I was in the 8th grade and a man pissing on my shoes in broad daylight. For me to see that strip become famous as “Warsh Ave” and a destination to out-of-towners is surreal. The St. Louis of my youth was on par with Detroit, Gary and Camden (only with worse race-relations and maybe a few more jobs) and without change this city was on its way to looking like Detroit looks today. My mother lived in the Shaw Neighborhood in the 90’s and at the time there were several open-air drug-markets in the neighborhood and it was definitely not the place to be. The corner of Shenandoah and Thurman was one of the most dangerous and hottest drug-corners in the city. Today, it is home to the Thurman Café a place where rich yuppies drink craft beer and talk about the English Premier League. A far cry from the Palestinian-owned store that used to sit on the corner with a Dirty Harry .45 revolver permanently affixed behind the counter. Or the corner where “Mae Man” was gunned down by police who had a hard-on for him anyway for being the leader of the “Do Mob”.

McCree Town, just blocks over from Shaw, looked like a ghost town or something out of a dystopian futuristic novel. The only people you ever saw were dope-dealers and dopefiends. Working people fled in droves and those left behind became victims getting robbed of social security checks and anything else of value.  Today my old friend Ben Poremba has one of the fanciest restaurants in St. Louis on the corner of Tower Grove and McRee. The old Dixiecrat South Side Hoosiers were fleeing the city and neighborhoods like Dutchtown and Bevo became vacant only to be saved by a wave of immigration. Bosnians, Somalis, Mexicans, Afghans, Vietnamese and other immigrant groups are now buying homes, opening up stores, and laying down roots with houses of worship. North St. Louis looked like Germantown Philly or West Baltimore with late-night traffic-jams from ghetto-drama and working-taxpayers locked up behind bars in their own homes at night never to leave their homes in the daytime unless it was necessary. The West Side was even worse and as in other cities the experiment of hi-rise public-housing from the Cochrane to the Peabody to the Blumeyer was not doing well.

Young people were not moving to the city, city employees were using their parents addresses and moving to the county, and anyone who got a good job got the hell out of the city ASAP leaving a trail of vacant housing for dopefiends to lay their heads in.

What is the situation today? When young people get out of college they are not thinking about suburban apartment complexes as they did in years past. They are headed to the city and renting apartments where they can have easy access to the Loft District, The Grove, South Grand, The Loop, the Central West End and other hotspots for dining and nightlife. The slightly older crowd are following the national trend and instead of buying suburban dream homes are buying homes to rehab in south side neighborhoods like Benton Park and Tower Grove East often on sketchy blocks. In my neighborhood of Old North St. Louis, where the old-times will tell you they couldn’t even get family to visit them in the 80’s and 90’s it was so bad, there are now lines around the corner at Crown Candy Kitchen and an organic food co-op.

Today St. Louis is a city full of night-life, new ethnic-neighborhoods and a renewed vibrancy. This may not be the booming St. Louis of the 40’s and 50’s with street cars and a packed Union Station my grandparents describe: but it is a far cry from the 80’s and 90’s. Can anyone who was around then imagine food trucks downtown at night? Tower Grove Park full of yuppies who grew up in West County playing kickball? The diversity of South Grand? A strip like The Grove? All of these things signal a break from the traditional backwards thinking St. Louis and all came under the watch of Mayor Slay who deserves credit.

 

The South Side base of Mayor Slay would have cheered if he would have bashed immigrants and joined the “English is the official language” crowd. Instead Mayor Slay is learning to speak Spanish. The boys down in Holly Hills and Bevo, who are not too keen on their new Muslim neighbors, would have cheered Mayor Slay on if he would have embraced Islamphobia. Instead Mayor Slay has reached out to the Muslim community at every turn and when local Muslims were targeted after 9-11 the mayor immediately came out in condemnation. I will not forget that and I know many other local Muslims feel the same way.

The Mayor is a South Side politician to be sure, and those are his roots, and he takes care of those who knows him best like everyone else does, but at the end of the day, Mayor Slay has worked to bring modernity to St. Louis and embrace diversity and economic-growth.

The cons on Slay? There are not many in my opinion. However, I disagree with the Mayor on the effectiveness of charter schools (I support school-choice), any attempts to privatize our great tasting city water, and I am skeptical (to say the least) of the Paul McKee “development”.

Alderman Lewis Reed: Pros and Cons

A Chicago-native and South Sider Lewis Reed is of the new mold of black urban Democratic politicians similar to the former Mayor of Washington, DC Adrien Fenty, Mayor Corey Booker of Newark and others. In other words “post-racial” black politicians who made their careers catering to the whims of a new breed of white liberal urbansits. In the case of Reed supporting dedicated lanes for cyclists, development in the upscale Lafayette Square neighborhood and such. This has made Reed a darling to the tiny population of urbanists who sit around drinking latte discussing development issues.

However, I am not so keen on Reed. Let us first look at the model of Washington, DC and Fenty. A model Reed seems to be following. Under the administration of Fenty the black population substantially plummeted and he cut through the city payrolls with a machete and almost everyone Fenty fired was black and in almost all cases replaced by whites. Fenty turned Chocolate City into a swirl with all the chocolate at the bottom and falling out of the cone into Maryland. The new DC is not a black working-class city: but rather a home for the white super-wealthy half-empty in the summer as they vacation in the Napa Valley or south of France leaving the District to tourists, the young, and people who didn’t come there for government jobs.

I fear that a Reed Administration would look a lot like a Fenty Administration. This is why I am dumbfounded that in the closing weeks of the campaign Reed is making a naked racial appeal to African-American voters. This is a man who in his entire political career has shown very little concern for black voters, has not reached out his neck on issues affecting the black community, and failed to hire blacks on his own staff and he is now reinventing himself as a modern-day Marcus Garvey? Hell, if you listen to his ads on radio you would think he is Nat Turner and not a guy who has dedicated his entire political career to issues that move the New Yorker crowd and not the crowd on Natural Bridge and Kingshighway. The Reed supporters will be sadly mistaken if he is elected as I am venturing a guess his staff will look a lot like the crowd at a Lafayette Square cocktail party and be concerned with the same issues.

Crime

In recent months I have heard a lot about crime and there is no doubt crime is a serious issue in this city and I speak on this issue with firsthand knowledge. I see it every day on my job and I hear about it everyday. Many friends of mine have been shot and killed in this city and many more have ended up in prison or struggling with addiction.

While crime is bad it is nowhere as bad as it was in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. If you want to go back to the 70’s when Fat Woods with his feared musclemen Earl Jr. and Rodney Woods and their young lieutenant Jerry Lewis ran the Pruitt-Igoe Projects ( something that somehow failed to make the Pruiit-Igoe Myth documentary when that is the first thing people talk about when they mention that era).  There is no block ran in St. Louis today like Big Woods ran the Pruiit-Igoe. There are no players left like Sam Petty and his brothers who did it big in the 70’s in St. Louis. Does anyone remember ’85 and ’86 when crack first hit? Then Bloods and Crips colors and set-trippin hit at the same time as crack and all while AIDS was blowing up? In the mid to late eighties even into the 90’s red and blue were shooting each other on site with no previous beef. That is no longer happening. Nobody with even a shred of information can tell you the gang-situation is worse today than it was in that era and the homicide statistics do not lie.

St. Louis was so flush with crack money from the mid 80’s to the mid 90’s and gang warfare that many neighborhoods looked like war zones. The College Hill of today is nothing like the Cabanne Courts, Horseshoe, 19th Street, Cochrane, Walnut Park or any projects of that era. The College Hill of 1993 was even way more dangerous than the College Hill of 2013. People always say “these kids nowadays are worser” or “It has never been worse” and most times they don’t know what the hell they are talking about. Many of the people complaining today, and I am not talking about residents of high-crime neighborhoods, were living in Ladue or Kansas at that time and don’t know these things. They move to the city, and while crime is down, they are terrified that the streets are not as safe as whatever upscale suburb they grew up in. Advice? Before you move to the city learn how to fight and if you can’t fight get a concealed-carry and try to be street smart and if you don’t do none of that expect to be a Knockout King or robbery victim.

Driving through the city in the 80’s and 90’s you would see corner after corner of people posted up on corners, leaning on whiles, drinking beer leanin on cars, selling dope in the middle of the street, dopefiends driving up to dopesets like a fast food drive-thru, dice games on the corner and the like. Drive through St. Louis north and south these days and there are only a handful of corners where you will see this such as the 4400 block of Farlin and the 2800 block of Stoddard. A friend of mine from the hard streets of Southeast DC remarked “how can St. Louis be dangerous I never see anyone in the streets”? Which of course is a mixed blessing. The city is safer but heavy-handed police tactics have also made people scared to socialize in their own neighborhoods or sit on their own porches.

The new elephant in the room is police cameras. We are being told the city will be safer if we are only willing to give up our civil-liberties and allow ourselves to be in one big reality TV show. Of course these people fail to mention that places like the south side of Chicago and west Baltimore have had cameras for years and they have not been successful.  There are also no city guidelines for their usage and the cameras existing in the 21st Ward have been used to monitor the political activities of the opponents of the alderman. When I asked a city official if this was appropriate he responded “Alderman Antonio French paid for them he can shoot pornos with them if he wants.”  Feeling safer yet?  Somehow we get through the 80’s and 90’s without giving up our civil-liberties. Why now?

Regarding crime I don’t think it matters all that much who is mayor. People are led to lives of crime because of family, social and cultural issues. In some areas a culture of crime takes root. It is a spiritual crisis and the government can only do so much other provide a better educational and job opportunities giving people a stake in society.

Education

On this issue I do not side with Slay or Reed. Our public schools suck. Period, end of discussion. I do not want to hear about Metro or some other school a fraction of parents can get their kids into at the end of the day the schools suck. Living in the city with kids often means: moving to the county when they are of school age, private schools, or home-schooling. I do not blame the teachers as they cannot work miracles. If there is not a culture of emphasizing education at home there is only so much a teacher can do. Our teachers are fine: but you cannot expect them to work miracles with kids coming from chaotic home lives. We do not need rich white kids blowing off a little white guilt through Teach For America to save black kids in some kind of neo-colonial mission. We need better families and that is why I support school choice which will give inner-city kids the same opportunities that every middle-class kids have to attend private schools where their souls can be nurtured.  This is a choice most Democrats can’t politically support: but at the same time they send their kids to private schools. It also does not help the case of the teachers union when a rep wanna-be thug (and we know this cat soft for real) like Mr. Abdul-Raheem assaults Slay supporters.

Culture

St. Louis has been losing population for decades. Reed says he can stop this. Doubtful, this is an issue bigger than any mayor that Slay has handled very well. Let’s start with some facts. In the 1950 census when St. Louis had well more than 800,000 residents St. Louis County was mostly farmland and the city was ruled by Jim Crow. The GI Bill, a suburban housing boom, and desegregation led to a mass exodus of white residents from the city . What followed was the emergence of a White Democratic Machine on the South Side a Black Machine on the North Side and a hipper, more affluent liberal set in the central-corridor fewer in numbers with a decimated downtown.

Each of these machines catered to their base and much, even most, of that appeal as based on race. The city became very provincial and about “where did you go to (high) school” (a question I actually love), tribal neighborhood associations, clannish ward committees, Catholic parishes that worked to enforce racial norms, exclusive labor unions, police and firefighters clustered in Southwest City, and powerful and corrupt black preachers in North St. Louis pimping a dwindling flock and in bed with alderman and funeral-home directors.

St. Louis is changing though. The old South Side Hoosiers are fleeing the city for Jefferson County and if they have money West County. Previous white neighborhoods with neighborhood bars where it was not uncommon to find Confederate memorabilia are now home to a mix of immigrants, African-Americans and educated young white professionals. The Catholic Parishes are not as strong as they once were and labor-unions have become weak. All of those factors led to an erosion of both city population and the political base of Mayor Slay.

Seeing the old white St. Louis on its death bed and a newer city emerging instead of cloistering himself in the 23rd Ward Mayor Slay reached out and made new alliances and welcomed the changing city. A city that is increasingly not home to the Catholic socially-conservative neighborhoods of his youth: but to a younger, more secular, less traditional group of people who do not have as many children yet love their dogs ( and I hate dogs but you know you gotta be tolerant). This is not a crowd I identify with as a socially-conservative practicing Sunni Muslim: but they have breathed life into city neighborhoods and Mayor Slay is doing everything he can to welcome them while holding on to his core values. As an example Mayor Slay comes from a strong labor background. If I remember correctly he might have even represented my dad who is a UAW Local #2250 member. Most of this new so-called hipster and urbanist crowd are educated, upwardly mobile, and grew up in neighborhoods with people like them. Case in point the guy who is redeveloping McRee Town has a sign “Friends Don’t Let Friends Live in Chesterfield”. That sign says a lot.  Everyone this guy knows, all of his friends at least, can live in Chesterfield if they want: but to most living in Chesterfield is an American dream. If anyone in my family ever had enough money to move to Chesterfield it would be a great success story. This is an opportunity available to so few Americans and what people dream of who move to this country from places like Bosnia and Pakistan. Yet, this guy doesn’t see that and on some levels I agree with him. I would much rather live in the city even if I had money: but like most Americans I can’t afford Chesterfield or one of his fancy eco-friendly houses.

The point is, on issues of class, while many of these new city residents see themselves as progressive and green and support gay marriage they may not be all that different than say Rush Limbaugh on labor issues and other class-issues.  If you watch Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert or Bill Maher all you get is a steady dose of “Americans are stupid” we are superior, we are elite, we are not religious, we don’t have guns ( but have the cops on speed dial) now let’s have a toast with our craft beer or wine. While embracing this new crowd Mayor Slay has not forsook his labor roots or the traditional religious neighborhoods of the city. He is trying to find a balance realizing this has to be a city for all people.

This is also not the same North St. Louis that elected Freeman Bosley, Jr. in 1993. The black middle-class has fled in droves to North St. Louis County and now even St. Charles County in search of better schools and safer neighborhoods. Black churches in North St. Louis are full on Sunday: but half the congregation, and probably the preacher, are headed out to North County after the sermon. The traditional Black Machine is in decline and fighting over crumbs as their base is picking up and moving to Florissant and Spanish Lake. While at the same time black political power is on the rise in North County with a sleuth of black mayors and elected officials not to mention St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley. I used to live on the 5300 block of Geraldine in the 90’s and it was a vibrant block (in a neighborhood they called Murderville). Today half the houses on the block have been torn down.  Most people just don’t wanna live in North St. Louis and no mayor is going to change that any time soon and the only candidate from the North Side is Jimmy Matthews.

The only thing that can bring St. Louis population back and curb the losses is immigration. While important to attract there are just not enough kids from West County to attract to the city or people looking to reconnect to their family roots. St. Louis is also unlikely to become a major attraction to move to given the fact that the weather here sucks, we are not close to any beaches, and the nature is nothing to write home about. We need immigrants and we need a major influx. Currently we have one of the lowest Latino populations in America and that is a good place to start. Find out how we can attract more immigrants to this city who can join hands in the future with African-Americans in North St. Louis, reformed South Side Hoosiers, and preservationists like Michael Allen to create a sustainable St. Louis into the future. I see Mayor Slay as someone who can strike the balance between all of these groups and at the same time keep dangerous forces with no class or racial consciousness such as NextSTL at bay ( they have some good stuff but overall the land grabs and grandiose projects they advocate, with zero concern for existing residents, and nonsense like making the North Riverfront into the Upper West Side, reminds me of some kind of perverse reverse Great Society where the resources of the state are dedicated to displacing the poor and empowering the rich).

Of course an old industrial city like St. Louis, where we have lost so many factories and corporations, has to figure out the economic questions and the jobs situation. That is a major priority and I see Mayor Slay working tirelessly on this issue while competing under the pressures of globalization .

My Endorsement

I proudly endorse the reelection of Mayor Francis Slay and count myself with State Senator Jamillah Nasheed as a former opponent turned support. I encourage all local Muslims to support this friend of our community. Come Tuesday it will be Slay Day. No Need For Reed.