For more than two decades, Nation of Islam student Minister Tony Muhammad (Bro. Tony) has dedicated his life to helping bring peace to the streets of Los Angeles.
He has been consistent and steadfast in waging a war on two fronts. And anyone remotely familiar with Bro. Tony knows he is passionate about saving Black lives. He carries the courageous message to stop the killing – both to law enforcement and the streets.
Bro. Tony has demonstrated that love from the first time he arrived, appointed by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan as the Nation Of Islam’s Western Region Representative.
What makes people return that love? What is it about Bro. Tony that makes him the most sought after leader when it comes to pain in the Black community?
Largely, it is his ministry built on a heart of gold and labor of love, according to community leaders, activists, and educators from all walks of life, who have watched, worked with and defended the Muslim minister.
“Bro. Tony Muhammad’s leadership is extraordinary as is demonstrated by this unity rally that he pulled together. This is the quintessential definition of heavy lifting,” said Danny Bakewell Sr., executive publisher of the L.A. Sentinel.
Bakewell was referring to the July 17 United Hoods plus Gangs Nation peace and unity summit at Mosque #27. Bro. Tony called the Bloods and Crips to meet to open dialogue to unite and stop the killing. Approximately 2,000 people, including gang interventionists and concerned residents responded.
“He has been on this path for years, working in the trenches, and to be able to bring Black people together, from so many different walks of life to achieve peace and unity in our community is a gift, and we are all blessed to have him as our leader on behalf of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, making this city a safer place for us all,” Bakewell stated.
“Minister Farrakhan should be immensely proud of the work that Minister Tony’s doing. The work he is doing on behalf of the Nation is unparalleled in the city of Los Angeles,” Bakewell added.
That work ranges from skillful conflict resolution between warring gang members, fighting against hunger with food programs and distribution, to promoting peace in the streets and advocating for justice for murdered children and their families, and even bridging the gap between law enforcement and the community.
Bro. Tony has helped to quell beefs between East Coast and West Coast rappers, which were affecting the streets. He helped fly the parties in to meet with Min. Farrakhan, which resulted in the first squash the beef documentary. That raised his street credibility, he noted.
The Tony Muhammad people love is patterned after Minister Farrakhan, his spiritual father, teacher and guide. “We have the greatest, divine example. I’ve studied the Minister. I’ve studied him. I’ve watched him, been in many meetings, and watched him facilitate, and I’ve asked, begged Allah, please bless me with a double portion of his spirit,” Bro. Tony said.
He said he approaches nothing without weighing, how would Min. Farrakhan deal with this, or how would he talk, or how comfortable would he be. “The Minister is the kind of leader, he opens himself up to allow everybody to be a part of what he does, and some of it is natural. All he’s doing is embellishing what God has blessed me with naturally,” Bro. Tony said.
In his southern upbringing, Bro. Tony said, their house was open to everybody. They shared everything with everybody, and treated people as if they had always known them. “We don’t see people as strangers in the South,” Bro. Tony said.
That, and being a student at this time of the baddest Black man on the planet, has been what has guided him through, Bro. Tony said. “I adjust myself to the Minister’s molding and shaping of me, but you have to have a willingness, because your desire has to feed that will,” he said.
Bro. Tony feels people are drawn to him, because they see an aspect in him of the man they love, which is Min. Farrakhan.
Before he even came to L.A., as a Muslim, Bro. Tony had been here once or twice, he said. He was able to witness the interaction between the Fruit of Islam (F.O.I. – male members of the NOI) and the gangs, and he was quite impressed, because he loves the streets, he said.
After a thorough briefing and instruction by Min. Farrakhan he hit the ground running to see what people needed and wanted, but not to try to get them to join the NOI. He just went to be their brother and to serve them.
His first act was to quickly help organize the historic Million Man March, which was just three months after he arrived. L.A. had more than a quarter of a million people from the west attend the Million Man March, Bro. Tony said.
“When I touched down, just going to the streets, and seeing the pain of the mothers, and seeing the gang members, and how they interact, it was instant love, because I knew what they were suffering from,” Bro. Tony said.
Vicky Lindsey, founder of Project Cry No More, a support group for mothers and families of victims of gun violence, said she is by far no follower, but Bro. Tony is the only person she will follow.
“He’s been fantastic … People trust him and I think a lot of people can feel his heart, because they know he’s not for no b.s. and he’s real about what he’s real about,” Lindsey said.
“I believe Minister is a good man and he comes from his heart,” she said.
“We know the Teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. We know how we’ve been destroyed, and if we are patient with our people, then we also are being trained and taught how to work with them in a patient way, being the example for them,” he continued.
One of the highlights of his ministry was standing for justice for Devin Brown (13) and speaking out against police brutality. Brown was killed by Los Angeles Police Department officer Steven Garcia on Feb. 6, 2005.
After community pressure through the Community Call to Action and Accountability, co-chaired by Bro. Tony and Rev. Lewis Logan (then senior pastor at Bethel AME Church), the Los Angeles Police Department swiftly revised its vehicle firing policy, prohibiting them from firing on moving vehicles unless there is another deadly threat.
“God blessed us to, at that time, get the Board of Police Commissioners to find the police officer out of compliance – first time in the history. That became headline news, and so the Community Call to Action grew out of that,” Bro. Tony said. “Once that grew, I asked the organizers, we must bring the gangs in, and from that, Cease Fire grew. Cease Fire came as a result of us starting the Community Call to Action, using what happened to Bro. Devin Brown,” Bro. Tony said.
“He’s always been an advocate, and not only that, it’s a sense of empowerment he gives us as former gang members, not that he’s trying to run it, or the Nation’s trying to run it, but he actually wants to help whatever it is that we need as former or even active gang members,” said Reverend Benny “Taco” Owens, a gang interventionist with Cease Fire.
Bro. Tony’s appeal is far-reaching because he yields respect to the community, Owens said. “He doesn’t say I have the solution to your problems, but he actually offers himself as a part of the solution…He’s at the table for assistance,” and the community is at a deficit for advocates, Owens said.
He added, “When I see, hear, or Min. Tony is mentioned, I don’t think of Crips and Bloods. I don’t think of Black and Brown. I don’t think of police. I think of a peacemaker, and I think of a neutral body that wants to support or be a resource to advocate for peace.”
“One of the values of the Nation of Islam and you can see this with the calling of the two Million Man March is that our people have a regard for the Nation, and it goes back for many years,” said Greg Akili of the L.A. Black Worker Center and the Black Community Clergy and Labor Alliance.
“Nobody else that I can think of, no national leader that I could think of, could pull a million of us together in 1995, and then again in 2015, so that I think that exemplifies the relationship that the Nation of Islam has within the Black community,” Akili said.
His relationship with Bro. Tony goes way back, to working on political campaigns, including for former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilman Herb Wesson, and before those, organizing for the Million Man March. Akili was also very active in the Community Call to Action and Accountability.
“If you go from that broad sense, and then you go down to Min. Tony, here in Los Angeles and the Western Region, then you’ve got that credibility. You’ve got those relationships, and Bro. Min. Tony has done a very good job of always being up front and out front around conditions in our community, so I’m glad to see that sisters and brothers are responding to their calls for a resolve in ending some of this violence,” Akili continued.
Right after Devin Brown, because of Bro. Tony’s work in L.A., Stan Tookie Williams, a reformed Crip, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, children’s author and peacemaker marked for execution by lethal injection on San Quentin’s death row, reached out, Bro. Tony said.
According to Bro. Tony, Williams wanted to assist with his efforts to unite the gangs and wanted to meet with Min. Farrakhan. “We went to see him, and he gave us a tape to play, and even though he was assassinated, we had his funeral at Pastor Logan’s church. The gang members poured in there, and the love they showed us was just astronomical,” Bro. Tony said.
Not too long after that was Bro. Tony’s run-in with the LAPD on Aug. 25, 2005. The chain reaction of violence began the night before, when 21-year-old Nahum Beaird was killed in a drive-by shooting in the Crenshaw District’s Hyde Park neighborhood.
Bro. Tony and the F.O.I. were there to attend a vigil and console grieving residents who were angry and seeking answers to why paramedics pronounced Beaird dead, when they said he was still moving.
Police on tactical alert claimed another drive-by shooting had occurred, and descended on the vigil aggressively. But the police and community had sharply different accounts of what happened. Police said Bro. Tony was belligerent, however, Tommy Walker, of CCTAA was with him when the police attacked.
“The police came in full speed and jumped out on us like we were supposed to run, zooming down the street with these babies out here. Min. Tony went to talk to them, and told them who he was, and the cops cursed and said they didn’t give a damn who he was,” Walker said then, just minutes after police beat and arrested Bro. Tony. He was taken to the LAPD’s 77th Precinct.
“It was a standoff with us on one side and the police on the other. The people were screaming and yelling in favor of us a lot and telling the police to leave us alone … If this had not been the minister, and just a group of Blacks standing around, nobody would have survived,” Walker added.
“When that beating took place with me by the LAPD, many – the gangs, the Nation (Of Islam), people in the community – surrounded the police station and said if I’m not out of there in 45 minutes, they’re going to tear this place up,” Bro. Tony said.
“And when I walked out of that building, jail cell, Danny Bakewell, a lot of other activists came to the cell to see about me, and saw the condition I was in, but things like that endeared me to the gangs, because I was at a prayer vigil, praying for a gang member who had just lost his life in what is called the Rollin 60s neighborhood,” Bro. Tony said.
He said that love went throughout the gang community, that “Minister Tony almost gave his life for the homies,” he said.
That incident motivated Skip Townsend, founder of the gang intervention effort 2nd Call, to get involved. “I was heated. I was mad. My soul was hurting that people who are out here helping the community are being victimized by the same people who are getting paid to protect the community,” Townsend said.
He said he has seen Bro. Tony organize L.A. when it has just been him and the NOI and F.O.I., and with celebrities like Big Boy, Steve Harvey, and The Game, as well, and people are receptive to it, he said.
“Of course, if you’re involved in the work, we answer the call of Minister Tony Muhammad, but the one thing that troubles me is, just like when Jesus Christ turned the five loaves of bread and the fish where he could feed 5,000 people, I see that people are flocking when they see the celebrities the same way, but when it’s time to actually do the work, when Min. Tony and the Nation of Islam started walking through those communities in 2011 and ’12 when they were just taking on the Jungle and Inglewood and Watts, and they even had me in a suit, walking with them, we didn’t have the crowds of people then,” Townsend stated.
“It was only the Nation and those few community members who were true to what we were doing. Min. Tony is going to walk regardless of who’s there, and I truly appreciate that, but I need the community to stand with him when there are no celebrities. I need the community to walk with him, when there is no Snoop Dogg, Big Boy and Game. I need just pure common sense to say it’s time to do something, and let me join in this movement,” Townsend said.
The LAPD beating incident undergirds the type of growth that has taken place between Bro. Tony and the streets. When there are gang shootings or beefs, he leaves his bed and goes into the fire. He goes to hospitals, and has done probably 100 funerals. One event after another, culminating with the late Bo Taylor, founder of the Unity One gang intervention effort, and others to organize the 100,000 Man March.
Then came Bro. Tony’s efforts to unite the gangs as well as motorcyclists through Southern California Peace Rides. God blessed him to pull bikers, where sports bikers and Harleys did not ride together. But because of his work, they said they would do it for him.
“That grew to a seven mile long caravan of bikers, low riders and Corvette clubs promoting peace in the streets of L.A., and we’ve been doing that for the last four years,” Bro. Tony said.
Mayor Eric Garcetti commended the Peace Rides last year, saying their effort helped to bring crime down the lowest it had been since 1958, Bro. Tony remarked.
“I think our people are tired and sick and tired of what the police are doing, as well as what we’re doing,” Bro. Tony stated.
Khalid Shah, founder and executive director of the Stop the Violence Increase the Peace Foundation and Regional Violence Reduction Coalition, has built a strong bond with Bro. Tony as they have worked to try to increase the peace.
“I am just honored to be able to work alongside of a brother of that stature, who has been able to go through what he was gone through, just because he loves our people and our community,” Shah said.
He said in his humble opinion, what makes people respond when Bro. Tony calls is his credibility. “They know that he’s sincere. They know that he will be there with or without the cameras, with or without funding, with or without a pat on the back, because he loves them, and I think that’s critical,” Shah said.
Unlike politicians, with four year seats, who finish their terms and people never hear from them again, or someone who has other motives or interests fueled by grant funding, Bro. Tony is part of rare breed that loves the community and in turn the community loves him, Shah observed.
“This work operates on a, some folks like to say a zero budget, but the budget that this work operates on through Bro. Min. Tony, through other self-help organizations, like Stop the Violence and other organizations, who believe in the mission and the purpose, and is rooted in the Teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, that budget is really a billion dollars, but it’s a billion dollars in love and commitment and you can’t break the bank here,” Shah said.
He added, “I don’t care what you do. It’s unbreakable. I don’t care whether you fund us or not, it’s unbreakable. I don’t care whether you support us or not, it’s unbreakable!”