Muhammed is an African-American who grew up in Harlem in the 1960s, at a time when racism was routine and institutionalized. He began taking a stand at a young age, declining to recite the pledge of allegiance when he was 15 years old because he did not see the “liberty and justice for all.” He was suspended from school.
He joined the Army after graduating from high school. His leadership qualities began to emerge when he had a year or so left on his 4-year stint. When he returned to the U.S., he was stationed in California where his unit was trained to quell riots and insurrections throughout the United States. When receiving instruction on subduing the civil rights riots, Muhammed raised concerns that these incidents largely took place in minority areas. He stood up to superior officers, arguing against going in with heavy weaponry, killing rioters and destroying the neighborhoods. It was then he found his voice.
In the 1970s, Muhammed spoke to a variety of groups and classes, always with a lesson of empowerment and cultural pride – not to let obstacles or circumstances weigh one down, encouraging people to take control of their lives, raise their children, practice discipline and continue learning. Muhammed spoke at universities including Brown, Rutgers, Vassar, NYU, Columbia, City College and Hunter College. He became a Muslim and led a ministry. He trained chaplains to counsel inmates in penal institutions, including Riker’s Island and Sing Sing.
He had a message of peace and dignity. He was invited to share his knowledge and experience with an ever-widening audience. Muhammed conducted sensitivity training for officers with the New York Police Department. He was a frequent guest at the United Nations, speaking to groups from attachés to prime ministers about cultural sensitivity.
Muhammed moved to southwest Florida in 1990. He started teaching martial arts to children in the Dunbar area in order to help children gain confidence and discipline. He noticed an inordinate amount of self-criticism among the black youth, specifically concerning their appearance. He felt it was crucial to change the self-perception of the youth in his programs.
He also noticed prejudice within the black community – between African Americans and Haitians as well as those from other Caribbean nations. Muhammed speaks of the connectedness among people; we are all one humanity. To move forward, we must focus on the unity, rather than the differences among us.
Over the last 22 years, cultural awareness has been stressed, from teaching and showcasing traditional African dance in the community, holding Kwanzaa celebrations and explaining its significance, to entire programs designed to expose children to different cultures so they learn to appreciate and celebrate differences, including their own attributes and cultural backgrounds.
Other honorees of the Face Award include Juan Diaz for Arts & Culture, Carmen Rey-Gomez for Education, Dr. William Figlesthaler for Medical, Position Logic for Small Business and Arthrex for Large Business.
Quality Life Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization transforming the community by developing the potential of underserved populations in southwest Florida with afterschool, family services and job development training. For more than 20 years, the “Q” has been instilling values of discipline, integrity and self-sufficiency. To learn more about Quality Life Center or to sign up for the next tour date, call Keesha at 239.334.2797 or visit http://www.qualitylifecenter.org.