Abdul Qahar, a political activist who has worked with prisoners, urban youth and community development organizations, discusses social and economic issues facing African Americans in Cleveland and in the US broadly. Qahar discusses his work with the Black Panther Party and describes the history and impact of the Black Nationalist movement. He relays some of the problems affecting Cleveland's neighborhoods, including drugs, foreclosures, corporate development, and the ongoing power of white supremacism.
Qahar, Abdul (interviewee)
Robinson, Angela (interviewer)
"Abdul Qahar Interview, 2008" (2008). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 920018.
Angela Robinson [00:00:01] This is Angela Robinson, researcher for the Cleveland State University Oral History Project. Okay. What is your name?
Abdul Qahar [00:00:13] Brother Abdul Qahar.
Angela Robinson [00:00:16] And when and where were you born?
Abdul Qahar [00:00:19] I was born in Clearwater, Florida, a little small town just around the Gulf of Mexico. And my birthday is a birthday that I will never forget. I was born [redacted].
Angela Robinson [00:00:37] Okay. All right. Where did you go to school?
Abdul Qahar [00:00:41] I went to school at Tarpon Junior High School. Tarpon Springs, Florida, Junior High School and Tarpon High School. I was actually put out of school because I was rebellious. That was the first year they begin to integrate the schools in Florida and the type of racism that we were receiving, I rebelled against that. And during the sixties, you rebelled, especially during the early sixties, '63, '64 and '5. There was some consequences in the consequences [that I was] I put out of school. I end up going to a job course at San Marcos, Texas. And that's where I graduated from Job Corps in Texas.
Angela Robinson [00:01:23] Okay, are you working? Do you have [an] occupation - what is your occupation now?
Abdul Qahar [00:01:28] My occupation is I am a full time revolutionary freedom fighter, but my income comes in that I work with youth. I'm a mentor and an elder and a presenter. I work with [an] organization called Golden Cypress, and I work with the male component part of it. And I will give you that information and stuff, you know, before we leave.
Angela Robinson [00:01:59] Okay. How have you received any special awards or recognition?
Abdul Qahar [00:02:03] Yes, some of my first award is that, and I wanted, I was one of the fastest brothers in the state of Florida. I won all type of medals and running track. My nickname was The Crow. I was so fast and people always asked me, see, well, you never ran track before. I remember the first time the coach, because I went to a Greek school in Tarpon Springs (Tarpon Springs, known for, you know, its' Greek community). And I remember my coach say, you know, ran track before and say, no, I see you run pretty fast. I got good training running from the police. [laughs] So that came in handy, you know, running. So I got all type of [a]wards. I ran in the AAU. When I became political active in the struggle for the liberation and education and enlightenment of my people, I got - I organized the first unity rally in Louisville, Kentucky, and now it's annual ... I got all type of awards in Louisville, Kentucky, working within the prison. I worked in the prison for several years and my program was Don't Serve Time, Let Time Serve You. And that was based upon the woman's womb. That's the only prison that we supposedly was allowed to be in. And that was legal. That was the mother's womb and we in the mother's womb for development and growth. So the brothers and sisters go to prison, they should use that as a womb to developing growth because prison is a blessing over the graveyard. At least you can walk out of prison, but you can't walk out the grave, and I got an award for that. And that program was out of sight and I got a table laid out for you afterwards so that what I'm saying, it's all on the table to verify. I always keep paper. And the awards in Cleveland... let me read some of them off. I got an award from a city council, Glenville Library. I, during the winter, I would come through here because I see a little...right across the street the all the youth are running around. So I asked Miss Walker, I say, could I use this room that we're in now to set up a unity club? And so she say, sure. So I set up the unity club and begin working with the young brothers. The young girls became jealous, so I set up a component part where I started working with the young girls and Craig Willis was the councilperson at that time. And I got that information also for you... And they gave me an award and we ended up on the front page of the newspaper. And one of the young brothers I [was] working with ended up on Oprah Winfrey Show, he's... and he come right from the Glenville area now, right on the 120 Street. He speak three different languages. He in France now working for a law firm, and when he used to come through, he used to come to the Glenville library, and I feel so proud of him. You know, my... I was in the house, my wife said, baby, come here, come and look on TV. And that was Anton. He was on TV, on Oprah's show, and it made me feel good. But I knew he was strong because Miss Walker was the director of this library, and she passed away. And... may God be pleased with her. I saw him debate her on some issues in his library. And I said, that young brother handling that sister. He handled himself, so he was gifted, and so God blessed him to move forward. The other world was Cleveland State University Black Aspiration Committee gave me a medal and a certificate for outstanding leadership. Then the Cleveland Baptist Association gave me a certificate for Youth Empowerment. Then American Auxillary of Western Reserve Historical Society gave me an award for appreciation of my work working with them. And also in 1989 I was called Worker of the Year for Berea Children Home. That was the first time [a] Muslim got that plaque and I got a bonus of $500 and that was the greatest reward. It kind of helped pay some bills. And I also got a certificate from the Youth for Summer Employment of four extra mouths during the summer. And that was in that was in 1997. I had youth, we had a community garden where we grew food. And so, basically, my greatest - my greatest reward now is you interviewing me.
Angela Robinson [00:06:26] Regarding the community garden, where was this community garden located?
Abdul Qahar [00:06:30] It was on it was on Cedar. Cedar... 39th and Cedar.
Angela Robinson [00:06:41] And what did you do with the food?
Abdul Qahar [00:06:44] We basically gave the food to some of the people in the community. And because we didn't have a fence around us, some people took the liberty to do their own shopping.
Angela Robinson [00:06:57] You received an award from the Western Reserve Historical Society?
Abdul Qahar [00:07:00] Mm hmm. Yes.
Angela Robinson [00:07:01] What did you do? Were you working with them on a certain project?
Abdul Qahar [00:07:08] Oh, what I did was I volunteered to come out and and help them coordinate. It was during the Black History Month. I have done two coordinated programs to assure ah, you know, take care of things, basically.
Angela Robinson [00:07:26] Wow, you have a lot of a lot of awards, and I love it.
Abdul Qahar [00:07:32] I love working for, you know, people. You know?
Angela Robinson [00:07:37] How long... You were born in Florida?
Abdul Qahar [00:07:40] Mm hmm.
Angela Robinson [00:07:41] How long have you lived in Cleveland, or how long have you lived in the Glenville area?
Abdul Qahar [00:07:47] I'd say that I live in... I lived in Cleveland almost 20 years.
Angela Robinson [00:07:54] Okay. And how long have you lived here?
Abdul Qahar [00:07:58] Oh, since then. Yeah, yeah.
Angela Robinson [00:08:04] You came from Florida and moved directly to the Glenville...?
Abdul Qahar [00:08:08] No, I left Florida. I was part of an organization, and in Clearwater... Clearwater was the Black Studies Group. And then I moved to St. Petersburg, became part of organization called Jomo, which was a Black national Pan-Africanist organization. And I was assigned to go to Louisville, Kentucky, to set up the institution of Black Unity, a house for Black nationalists and Pan-Africanists. And in the process there, I became part of the Black Panther Party and began to organize that and got married and set up a bookstore called Black Market Bookstore - Read, it ain't illegal yet. And I was working on the University of Louisville, Kentucky, campus. And I met some people from Cleveland. They told me Cleveland was a chocolate city. Yeah, they should said with peanut butter with some nuts in it, 'cause... You know what I mean? So, so I end up coming to Cleveland and... And was selling books in it, and I got some of the pictures up on the table, and coming to Cleveland, to an organization that I always will give thanks to. And I thank God for blessing me to come and meet great organization of people. Cleveland State University Black Studies Program. I've been with them all the years. I'm on the advisory board, the Black Advisory Board, and East End Neighborhood House under the leadership of Paul Hill Jr. Those people had led me in the direction what had led me to good people.
Angela Robinson [00:09:51] Okay.
Abdul Qahar [00:09:51] Good revolutionary fighting people. And I maintain those contacts today.
Angela Robinson [00:09:59] Well, before I forget... Okay, you're part of the Black Panthers organization?
Abdul Qahar [00:10:06] Oh, I'm the, um, the... and... I gave it to you... I'm the chairman of the New Black Panther Party.
Angela Robinson [00:10:15] Oh, the New Black [Panthers], right. What's the difference between the New Black Panther and the...?
Abdul Qahar [00:10:19] And the Panther back in the sixties? I've been with both of them and I've been chairman for both of the Panthers in the sixties. We were more of a Marxist organization, more of a socialist organization. The New Black Panther Party, we are revolutionary Black nationalists and Pan-Africanists. We don't adhere to the Marxist Leninist Mao Tse Tung philosophy. We are strictly a Pan-Africanist philosophy organization. And I got that for you to take on. See, I got a packet for you so that you can sit back and relax and you could hear it and you can go back and check because I always want the people to be balanced when they get this information because we're actually fighting a revolution. Some people see it and some people don't, so we have to be very strong with our information. Yeah. Y'all make a good team, you and your son. [inaudible] me.
Angela Robinson [00:11:20] Okay. Could you tell me again how you got involved with the Glenville area?
Abdul Qahar [00:11:27] Okay. My wife, when we came here to establish a bookstore, her relatives lived on 120th and Saint Clair. And so we came in, that was, that was the first place that we stayed, and then I got involved with Cleveland State, that's the first place I went to sell some books, and I met Dr. Mims and a couple of the good people, and then they turned me on to other leaders in the community and since then I've been in the Glenville area.
Angela Robinson [00:11:53] What do you remember most about the Glenville community?
Abdul Qahar [00:11:57] It was a very tough community, very tough. And at one time especially it was, it was definitely gang infested. You know, when I first came... it done mellowed down now, but we got incidents of killing and it's basically... I don't believe it's organized, I just basically believe that it's people using drugs and strung out and desperate.
Angela Robinson [00:12:26] What time period were you talking about? The 1980s?
Abdul Qahar [00:12:29] Yes. Mm hm.
Angela Robinson [00:12:34] From the 1980s to the present time then, what changes took place in the neighborhood? Tell me some more about the people in the community.
Abdul Qahar [00:12:45] Basically, the changes that came in the Glenville area... to me it was some positive, was some negative. First of all, the first change that I really enjoy and I miss very much is when they had the East Side market. There was a variety of foods, different, that I could I can get my fish and and get the vegetables and fruits that I needed. The other thing is that most of the power in City Hall came from the Glenville area. You got the Forbes, you had Mike White, and you had all these people. So Glenville was a, was a power base, and they were one of the strongest power bases that helped put the mayors in City Hall. The other thing about Glenville that I really love, it have an outstanding school, Glenville High School, and the beauty of it is that most every major city you go to, there's a high school where brothers and sisters just turn it out, and I love it. And, and to be honest with you too, being in the Glenville area... I love Glenville, seriously. I don't have no fear among my peoples here in Glenville, you know, I've been organized and I've been working with them, you know, I walk the streets with them, I talk with them, I'm, I'm cautious. But it's... it's something like Glenville is like, I guess—this is a little humor—I guess, 'cause it sounds like Louisville [laughs]. I just love the 'villes, you know? You know, but Glenville have been good to me and that's why I've been here for the longest and I'm known in this area. I'm very well known. And just, like I said, when I came here earlier, I said, oh silly me, visiting people. I went to the barber shop, I went to the stores and, you know, and hey, you know, I got to see my brothers and sisters.
Angela Robinson [00:14:55] Wonderful. Why did you... you're no longer living in the Glenville area now?
Abdul Qahar [00:15:04] I'm still in the Glenville area.
Angela Robinson [00:15:05] Oh, you are? Okay.
Abdul Qahar [00:15:06] Mm hmm.
Angela Robinson [00:15:08] Are there a lot of people starting to move out of the Glenville area? There, are there a lot of boarded up homes?
Abdul Qahar [00:15:26] Oh, yes. But too many homes is boarded up and too many homes is being repossessed, okay, in foreclosure. Let me just mention the boarded up homes and then the foreclosure. I like what Atlanta, Georgia, attempted to do some years back. Any boarded up homes they will allow the homeless that got the skills to go in there and renovate these homes so that people can live in these homes. And the reason that I'm saying this, I had experience and we became known as The Dirty Dozen, and this was in Louisville, Kentucky. They had so many boarded up homes during the seventies where, back then, the heroin dealers would use these as shooting galleries. And young girls were being dragged in there and raped. We told the city, if you're not going to renovate the homes, tear 'em down. The city refused to tear 'em down. So the Black Panther Party, the Catholic Church with some nuns, the Black Workers Coalition, and other organizations, then, we took sledgehammers and tore these houses down and threw them in the streets. Made the city clean up the streets because we had a responsibility and an obligation because this was in our community. And if we don't organize our own communities, nobody's going to do it for us. So these boarded up houses now, they finding out that, in Cleveland, they're becoming fire hazards because you got arson, you got people going in there smoking crack, you know? And so these houses are actually fire traps, dope traps, murder traps, and rape traps. They need to be renovated, or they need to be destroyed. Now the foreclosure is a movement by whites to reclaim the inner cities. And the reason is, high gas and all the jobs are downtown. All the sports is downtown. And so the whole thing is to move us out of the city, where in the eighties we used to have a saying: we would come ring around the collar. Okay? [laughs] So it's all a plan and a plot and it's happening in all the cities where whites is emerging back into the city and moving us out of the city and, plus, that dilutes our political power base. And that's very dangerous. On the security tip of it, it also breaks up our security as a village. We are secure because we are close to one another. But now you're over here, you isolated, you got to get across town, you know, that's a problem. You know, I'm over here, you're over here. So they sprinkling us out. We have to look at the long goal plan in terms of how we're going to build an economic base, an educational base, and a political base. And what they're doing now, they are targeting and trying and being successful, and in certain stage of destroying our power.
Angela Robinson [00:18:41] Well, how... So, a lot of people in the community feel the same way you do?
Abdul Qahar [00:18:47] Oh, most people in the community that are progressive thinking people does. But because of the fear, people are thinking more about their lives and their children lives, than seeing the long- range picture. So they will cop out and they will bow out. They say, Look, I got to get away from here. And that's what's happening, is that the propaganda that is being put out to "take the streets back from the thugs" and all of this rhetoric is putting fear in people and causing people to sell out and move. So, so the majority of our people who are not politically mature fall for this. And the deepest thing that the people that fall for this is, are, actually the people that have the skills - our intellectuals, our doctors, our lawyers, our teachers, you know. And when they start draining that then, then there's going to be a drain on the school system, the medical system, that caters to us. So...
Angela Robinson [00:20:01] I have to mention that, coming through the area, I saw a lot of boarded up businesses.
Abdul Qahar [00:20:07] Mm hmm.
Angela Robinson [00:20:11] Do you think these businesses are leaving for the same reason, and who, who owns these businesses in the area now?
Abdul Qahar [00:20:21] Most of the businesses in our community are owned by outsiders. Mostly the Arabs. One thing that is happening with the business here is that—and it's not hard to explain, but it's kind of hard to see if you actually look at what I'm seeing—we don't support our businesses. I'll just come straight out. We don't support our businesses. We are so desperate. There's one brother—and it's right outside where we're havin' this interview—a store called Mandingo. When I first came to Cleveland, that brother took me up under his wing to the point where people thought I was his son and I was, in a way. Mandingo taught me a whole lot about the Glenville area and a whole lot about business. He said he would never sell his business to a white man or to an Arab, and he never did. He made his transition, never selling. I was in a couple of times, matter of fact, I was, because of the Mandingo business,was with the Mandingo apartment. And when it was time, when he would close up, I would come down 1:00 in the morning and watch his back while he count his money and he close up. I was in there one day when an Arab came in there with a big wad of money, and I like what Mandingo told that man. Mandingo said, Man my Cadillac cost more than what you got in your hand. I ain't sellin'. And then one time, the Arabs called a boycott. And this is the dangerous part about the business, and, and I'm definitely glad that you mention this, not only does they control the business, but they control our livelihood in terms of whether we eat or don't eat. And I remember at one time in the nineties when many of the Arab merchants was getting shot and I have to respect them on their organization skills. So they organized a one-day boycott, and they had the young Arabs ride around in cars making sure that all the stores were shut down. And I remember they came in Mandingo. He said, You ain't shutting down? Mandingo say this is not an Arab store. But just imagine that he shut down the store, you know, and that's your milk or your toilet paper and all that. You know what I mean? So we have losing the black business. When you lose your black businesses, then it's called an economic genocide. And that's the dangerous point, that's the reason that we in the Black community, the New Black Panther Party that I'm chairing, is dealing with that. Yeah.
Angela Robinson [00:23:23] Well, why were these businesses moving out? Did you already tell me that? Other than them selling? What was the reason for them selling?
Abdul Qahar [00:23:36] One of the reasons for them selling out is that, in terms of money... desperate, desperate for finance. And you know what, it actually goes back to whether the White man's ice is colder than the Black man's ice. The White man's pop is sweeter than a Black man's pop is. It came to the point of almost self-hatred. What the young brothers in the street call "hating" - when a Black man get a business, there's some hating going on. And it's got worse to the point where if you get a pair of sneakers, there's some hating going on, you get a, you know, a nice looking car, some rims, there's some hating going on. One of the things that happened to us that finally caught up with us, you know, we allowed the cancer to grow because of the educators. And I have to say, these philosophers, the doctors of education, the doctors of history, historians, the freedom fighters, the rebels and, we failed on the job and allowed that cancer to grow, and so the cancer grow so deep now that it's eating us up and to the point where we hate ourselves with half of the killings in our community is self-hatred. To not support Black business is self-hatred. We are going to the Arab store. We allow them to mistreat our women. We are allow them to mistreat us. We allow them to sell us bad meat. We get credit from them. And, you know, when we get paid, we take the check back to him. We have loved to love everybody else, but not to love ourselves. And this is the dangerous thing is that it's happening. Going back to the boarded house and stuff and the community, there's a self-hatred there also. And I teach these young people that there's a garbage can that could be sitting right on the corner, you still walk by that and drop your pop bottles, throw your trash and everything. But then you go in the Heights and Shaker Heights, you find a garbage, you turn your music down, you won't empty your ashtrays at the red light. What that's a sign of...that's a sign because mentally you feel you living in a garbage can when you come in your own community. So that's a reflection on your state of mind. And this is what is happening with that within our community. We, we must get back to the Cultural Revolution and bring our people around. Which you see how I dress, you know. But when it time to come put on the suit, it's about the spook who is sat by the door. [laughs].
Angela Robinson [00:26:28] All right. Oh. What the businesses... are they giving back to the community? Like the money that the Arabs take in, are they contributing some of that money back into the community, or...
Abdul Qahar [00:26:45] No. If some of the businesses are, it's not heard of and is very quiet. What we're in the process of doing, since you begin this interview, with the State of Mercy Conference that we call the Solution for the State of Emergency in Cleveland. And, and I'll definitely keep you abreast of it because we follow this up with serious business. When we did it in Cleveland State, it was serious business. We are calling for a People's Community Congress, and the People's Community Congress would be like city hall but only be controlled by the people. That means that we have representatives in every ward like the Councilpeople's in every ward. We would have somebody represent the Community Congress. The Community Congress would be broken up in different parts. The political, the economics, the education, and the security. In terms of setting up security teams, do our own, have our own intelligence agencies seeing who's doing work within our community. The economic part of it. The education part of it. Why did we call for a Community Congress? Because there's no government structure within our community. And every village there's a structure. And when we were growing up, there was a structure. We knew who the snake was in our community. Our parent would say, don't hang around him or don't hang around her. She's a hot momma. She fast, he's a thief and he's dangerous. We will go to their house. We know how to sit down and talk to him, the men would. So we have to go back to the structure because the village is off the hook, and we have to go back and set up that structure. So this Congress is not going to be an easy Congress, but we have professional peoples be coming to the Congress. We got the Nation of Islam, which builds successful business all over the country, especially during the sixties and seventies. We got the Black construction organizations coming on board so we could deal with the economics. And we're also talking about going to the businesses and how the businesses become part of this. And the reason I say we call it the People's cCmmunity Congress, because we want the people to know that this is part of they you know, they Congress. We want the business people to be part of it. But it got to be very progressive. The business got to give back. And to some point where if they arrogancy in our community to the point where they get that arrogant, then we will call for what we would call economic assassination. We shut their business down. That's straight up like that.
Angela Robinson [00:29:32] Why? Why don't you think...well, back in the... Okay, earlier, back during the 1950s, even. Even still, the 1960s. Our communities were more close. They were more close.
Abdul Qahar [00:29:56] Mm hmm.
Angela Robinson [00:29:56] Why do you think it's... it's a breakdown. What happened? Because you spoke of having the political, educational, economic, and security for this new people's...
Abdul Qahar [00:30:10] People's Community Congress, right.
Angela Robinson [00:30:12] University Circle has something that's already established. Mm hmm. Why is it that the neighborhoods surrounding University Circle don't have things like that?
Abdul Qahar [00:30:23] One is because I have a saying: The strength of everything is in organization. Organization is natural, the heaven and earth function on an organized manner. The body function, that's where organization comes from. Organs, the heart has a function and not jealous of the lungs, the lungs are not jealous of the intestine, the intestine not jealous of the bowels. Everybody have a function and they organize in an organized manner. What they did to us is unorganize us and, simply meaning, unorganized people subject to any type of exploitation. So they have peoples in places to make this happen. Once again, it's going back to them coming back, taking the city. And the Negroes that are in positions to protect the village have sold the village out and selling the village out is totally destroying, just bringing up... First of all, Cleveland during the sixties had more Black nationalist organizations than any other city in America. Cleveland, you know what Cleveland's nickname was? Black Libya. And anybody that was a Black nationalist had to come through Cleveland. Cleveland was so Black that Malcolm came and gave his speech here, Ballot or the Bullet, and they went to the ballot 'cause the Nationalists was giving up the bullets, and they elected a Black mayor based upon Ballot or the Bullet. Which one y'all want? They said, well we better go to the ballot. But that's how Black Cleveland was. So what they did, now check this out. So what they did, they sit back and went behind closed doors and they say never again we'll let Black folks get this much power. Never again we'll allow Black folks to get this organized because they get organized in Cleveland again, we lost. So they think about that. So every time we rise up, every time we rise up, mass media.
Angela Robinson [00:32:50] All right. Tell me what you have. What are you showing me?
Abdul Qahar [00:32:54] Okay. What I'm showing you is a newspaper, The Free Times. Matter of fact right after this article The Free Times went out of business. This is a Free Times magazine and I'm trying to look and see. It was September 18 to 24, if... I can't see what year was... And the title of it is "The New Black Panther Party Under the Gun," and inside this is our national spokesman, Malik Zulu Shabazz, and myself. We had a conference at Dr. Martin Luther King Library on Homeland Security. During that time, my wife and I... I was one of the speakers, and I was in the process to organize the Greater Reparation Mobilization Coalition, which you are familiar with. And when Zulu and them came in late—they said that they was held up by the police after leaving the fish house and made to lay down—so I told him that we had to leave. So my wife and I got in the car. When we pulled out of the driveway of the parking lot, a lot of cars came behind us. A Mustang, SUV, all types of vehicles came. And I said, Oh, well, I guess the meeting is over. So we come down Shaw, and they were followin' down. Shaw. We hit Saint Clair, I say, They're going the same way we're going. I turn on 120 Street and they turned, and I say, They live in the same neighborhood. So I turn in the parking lot and this SUV pulled in front of me with blue lights and these were all white policemen. And they pull in front of the car and lucky I threw on brakes, and they jumped out and they put a nine millimeter to my wife's head. They ran around her side of the car, put a nine millimeter to her head. Put a nine millimeter to my head. It was so close, I can see the clip. That's in the newspaper article also. And they said, it's the first thing they said, they say, put your hand on the steering wheel. So I put my hands on the steering wheel. Then, another one, another one say, Show me some driver's license. So I didn't think about Malcolm. I didn't think about Dr. King. I thought about Richard Pryor. I said, Officer, I am reaching to get my wallet and I don't have no gun. [laughs] So that day Richard Pryor came to my mind [laughs] 'cause I didn't want no funny stuff. And they went down and say man ah, and they was embarrassed because when they pulled me over, they didn't realize I lived right across the street and I always park in the parking lot. So I guess they thought, I'm fixin' to get ready and run. And they said my car was was involved in a crime and this and that, did I lend my car out, and where I come from, I say, Y'all know where I come from 'cause y'all followed me straight out the parking lot... but I couldn't let that go down like that. So I called the papers, and the papers well, you know, printed it. And they also sent me a letter that I also have appreciating, you know, the story and stuff and they kind of expose some things, because these cops didn't have no badge. They had nothin'. All I know, they could've been the Klans. See, but I think what they were telling me here in Cleveland, we want you know, we know how to get to you when we want to. So that was a message that was sent to me. Cleveland right now in the worst state.
Angela Robinson [00:36:28] What year was this?
Abdul Qahar [00:36:30] It was in, uh... 1993. Wait, hold it, no...no, no, no, no. It read Sunday... it was in 2002. Yeah. Also, [inaudible]. I have a letter also on the table where we went into the schools here. And the next thing I know, the school board called me and tell me that I have to have the proper papers and everything, so I went and got the proper paper because I work as a counselor in Audubon. I work with the International Preparatory School, I work with the Imani School, I work with East End Neighborhood House, I work with the youth in the school that we had in Berea. But all of a sudden they want me to show some papers, I show some papers, and I wasn't allowed... The Panthers, we weren't allowed to get into the school. Now, what happened was the word got back to me that was certain Negroes that didn't want the Panthers or the Muslims to work in the schools. See that's some hating going on, class hating among ourselves, so I got a copy of the letter that I sent the councilwoman and in terms of inviting her to meet with her. She did come to the office. So I got a letter that I sent many organization people and peoples in the head. We got to put down our differences. And I understand that what, what actually Cleveland doing is, as I gave you the history that they do not want no Black power base here in Cleveland, period. No Black power base in Cleveland here, period. And they have these new Negroes that is a buffer zone to make sure a progressive revolutionary thinking minded people not have that chance. And those are the type of people that I'm working with, and they cannot choose my friends for me.
Angela Robinson [00:38:41] So how is Glenville, if you can tell me, how is Glenville associated with, or are they associated with, the University Circle area? Like did University Circle have...reach out to the Glenville area?Tell me about it.
Abdul Qahar [00:38:59] Well I don't know too much about that, about their type of relationship, but there are some historical things going on there. My understanding, they have one of the Underground [Railroad] houses there. My group that I work with, the Golden Disciples, we are marching in their parade around the Circle every year. This year we had an outstanding parade. I mean, I'm so proud of my youth. Man, I just can't get enough of them. But I don't know too much about the operation. I'm so busy in the African, African community. But I do notice one thing though, and the next time you get a chance to see it, they are building—Cleveland Clinic and all them—are taking up all the land and from the Veteran's hospital going down until you get to Superior. See they work in there. White folks living in those houses. Yeah, white folks live in those houses. Catch 'em out there watering their grass and getting their mails.
Angela Robinson [00:40:06] Okay. So who, who lives in those houses?
Abdul Qahar [00:40:09] Mostly the employees from Cleveland Clinic. It's one thing that brothers and sisters don't realize. And this only come from experience knowing how certain elements work against your benefit. Cleveland Clinic in the future are going to annex itself and become a city. They already got their police department, they working on their fire department, and they're building, they're growing so they gonna annex themselves. Cleveland Clinic police already have the same right as Cleveland Police to lock up us, to do what they have to do. So we have to look at stuff like that. We got to take the blinders off because the men of the religious clergy is not gonna do that. And that's one thing that I can say about the Glenville area. They allow the Negroes to move out into suburbs, but the one thing the white man don't allow you to do [is] bring your church out there. So what happening on Sunday, Glenville area's church... the whole area becomes the church. You see all the cars. They do not invest in the business here. Why? They don't live here. They don't invest in the youth here. Why? They don't live here. The only reason they come here's for the church. And when you leave here, any chance you get go down 105, you see churches and parking lots. Churches and parking lots. But on Sundays, they done got to the point where they got white security guards and valet parking.
Angela Robinson [00:41:45] The churches?
Abdul Qahar [00:41:45] Yeah! Sister. The nightclubs ain't got nothing on them. Valet parking and white security guards. And they be high stepping on Sunday. Get you a chair, sit back and watch the show. And then they gone. Poof. Yeah. Churches on the right side, blight on the left side.
Angela Robinson [00:42:22] Okay. So we talked about how Cleveland Clinic expansion...[inaudible]
Abdul Qahar [00:42:26] Oh, fast too. Fast. They done bought up Job Corps. Yeah, Job Corps ain't down there no more, Job Corps is way out, off of Lakeshore.
Angela Robinson [00:42:38] We're talking about Job Corps on Fairhill and, uh...that Job Corps?
Abdul Qahar [00:42:41] That Job Corps gone.
Angela Robinson [00:42:49] Yeah. Wow.
Abdul Qahar [00:42:50] Yeah. See, all of this is happening quietly. And one day it's like, you know, the old saying that when missionaries came to Africa and gave us the Bible and said, now let's bow our head and pray, and when we looked up we had a Bible, but they had the land, and see what has happened here, we bowing our head and waking up and then the next day, you know, somebody else got it. To the point, let me just mention this, most of the malls, the areas that we moved out in, they shutting down. See, there's... Once again, an unorganized people subject to oppression, slavery, genocide, slaughter. Any given time, those who will organize against us. The great, the greatest threat to these people, the, let me say the anti-humanity forces, because this not a black and white thing. It's pro-humanity and anti-humanity. I'm a pro-humanity fighter and those who are anti-humanity, they are organized and the pro-humanity forces, we have to become organized. And this is our... our... this is our salvation. And I, I showed you that, that... all my junk coming out... When I told you that I was born in Clearwater, Florida, and was first, first organized right after I came out of Job Corps. Let me show you something. [inaudible] Acts of sabotage, terrorism in the United States from 1965, 1970s, even before bin Laden got started. I want to show you something real quick right here. And and I got to get with my... I got to get with my sister, too, on this. Wait, hold it right here. The fourth of September. Clearwater, Florida. Rocks were thrown at officer in connection with the robbery of a man and woman and one officer was injured. Me and my sister, back in the day. Yeah. I've been organizing, fighting against racism most of my life since I've been 15, and I paid the consequences of it. When I was in the Panthers, I was charged with armed robbery of a hotel during the Kentucky Derby. Well, the drug dealer was, and during that period of time, things happened. I became the number one enemy of the United States government and the drug dealers. They wrote up a small book called The Legend of Ben Simmons. That was my name then. The government put a contract on me and I beat the case. Two years later, they came and kidnapped me, put me in a mental institution, gave me shock treatment and drugged me, interrogated me for 60 days. Until they... Seein' the drugs coming into the Glenville area is certain experiences that I have had in my life struggle, is that what I see happening in Glenville hurt. As I say, I'm 57 and if, God willing, in September I'll be 58 and seeing all what I went through, seeing drugs reoccur... the reason why I fought against it because, if you study history the Chinese had to fight against the opium. Any any time a people's conscious rises, all the vices come in. And so now we in a... we have to be in a cleanup process. That's why we have to organize the Congress, because everybody with dreadlocks, goldilocks, or any type of locks, Afros, the dashikis, the kufis, and fez, don't mean that they have to be part of our liberation of humanity. See? And so the real fighters have to have to take a stand now and take a strong sacrifice. What keep me going... Let me just share this with you. And it's personal. My mother, when I first got into struggles, was like any other mother, she was worried about me. And when I became a Muslim boy she, she flipped, especially when I changed my name, because I took my name from Benjamin Simmons and I didn't understand that that was a righteous name too. Benjamin is a Hebrew term meaning right hand son. Simmons is one of the tribes. But I was rebelling against this racist... I changed my name. I mean, if Boo Boo was a revolutionary name I'd have been Brother Boo Boo, you know what I mean? [laughs] You know, I...you know, I wanted to rebel so bad. But what happened when she was passing away from cancer, she said, I'm not going to go until I see my son. So I gets on the airplane, goes to Cleveland International Airport, snatched out of line, pulled over to the side, made to take off my shoes, took off my coat, went through my bag with a rag looking for bomb residue. Put me on the plane, I'm getting... Then they finally let me go. I get on the plane, they set a U.S. marshal in the back of me. Flew with me all the way to Florida.
Angela Robinson [00:48:16] This is...
Abdul Qahar [00:48:17] Cleveland.
Angela Robinson [00:48:17] This must be recently?
Abdul Qahar [00:48:18] Yeah. Yeah.
Angela Robinson [00:48:20] So you're still on their hit list?
Abdul Qahar [00:48:21] I'm gonna always be on their hit list. And if I'm not, then I'm doing something wrong, if you get me. If I ain't on no hit list, I'm gonna get jealous. Man, why you ain't messing with me, man? Huh? You know what I mean? And so when I go see my mother, they there. U.S. marshals with their windbreakers on. But this is what my, my mother did... I had sort of like a, like a kufi on. And my mother, she a minister now, okay? Holiness minister. She laying back, she got a rag on her head, and she said, Son, I like that you got on your head. I say, thank you, Mama. I want that. I say, Yeah, Mama. I'm not playing. And she died. I took it off. I gave to my older sister Stella, I say Stella, put this on Mama's head. She put this on my mother's head, and every time I talk about that I get sensitive. It blew my sisters, my daughter, my stepbrother, and my grandkids' minds. She put that on her head, I say, Mama, that fits your head better than mine. You know what my mother did? Laying down she did this, and then she saluted me, and the next day she died. And my mother saluted me.
Angela Robinson [00:49:45] Okay. What can you tell me about regarding Cleveland Clinic expansion? How do the people in the neighborhood now feel about this because those homes now, they look... they look nice.
Abdul Qahar [00:50:09] Oh man... Oh, they fix them all the way from, from 105 to Chester. Is it Chester? Yeah, Chester. All that Cleveland Clinic keeping the doctors and then many of those too is the rich Arab from the Arab Emirates. Instead of living in in the hospital they getting these homes. Most people in Cleveland I talked to say on certain days it's like a foreign country when you go through there before they start fixing up, you know, streets. And that's where most of their money coming from.
Angela Robinson [00:50:44] So the people, the people that are still in the neighborhood, you know, how do they feel about?
Abdul Qahar [00:50:53] They don't. We are to the point where it's what Malcolm said that we full of novocaine. We don't feel no more. We do not feel no more. See, that's why we call a state of emergency.
Angela Robinson [00:51:21] Because of this... because of Cleveland Clinic's expansion, actually University Circle Incorporated expansion... Do you think it's going to bring a closer relationship with the Black community?
Abdul Qahar [00:51:40] No way. No.
Angela Robinson [00:51:40] Well, why is that?
Abdul Qahar [00:51:45] What we are living in a time right now, even under Brother Obama watch, we're living in a time now where America is moving towards a higher form of racism, like I gonna say fascism. Black folks and white folks get further and further away, and that's going to cause a problem. See, white supremacy is way over, you know, white supremacy not dead, and it's well and it's alive. You can even look at the college you can went to, you know, you can look at the state of the Black Studies program you're going to, they've been fighting for years trying to destroy that. They don't want no Black Studies department, and they've been working for years and my fight is... I'm in non alliance with any type of government, you know, system here because I'm a revolutionary and I don't hold no tenure and we'll fight to maintain because our taxes is there. This is not a Cleveland State, you know talking about Cleveland State, because I'm going back to Cleveland Clinic, because they are all in cahoots together. It's not a metro campus, it's an inner-city campus. And Cleveland Clinic and Case Western, all of them are part of that... a national struggle to disunite Black people. And it's so deep that, you know, I'm kind of drifting off a little bit. [inaudible] They took this man 'cause he's talking about dogs, but yet you got a President that's bombing peoples in Iraq. But this man gets sentence for saying killing dogs that was, uh, pit bulls.Then you come around with a law in Cleveland's fixin' to outlaw pit bulls. You know, so when it comes to us is it's frightening to the point where this is what I'm putting out now. And I'm getting a great response to it. That's a letter that was put out by the Ku Klux Klans in the seventies, because they fixing to go into the retirement home, because we doing they job for them. Black folks are killing more Black folks than the Klans is hanging. So that's yours.
Angela Robinson [00:54:31] Because of the... Do you know anything about the Euclid Corridor Project?
Abdul Qahar [00:54:38] Uh, not too much. But I'm gonna tell you, whoever put that together, they weren't thinking. Uh, when you get on that bus you gotta step up and step down. And what about people who are old? It's... it's... and then you stepping into traffic. I mean...
Angela Robinson [00:54:59] Okay. So... but this this whole project, this oral history project, do you think it's going to bring a bridge, a relationship between University Circle and its border and neighborhoods?
Abdul Qahar [00:55:14] I think that it's not going to bring any type of true relationship. We need to accept this. And the more I talk to you, the more I visualize, we need to accept this that, especially in the Glenville Area, because of their reputation. When you read the newspaper and listen to the news, Glenville in itself is like a, is like, it's just by itself. When they say the East is by itself. When you say something went down on the East Side, you don't think about Cleveland Clinic, you don't think about the University Circle. See? And that area is a hot area that as you drivin' through there you know you subject like the Shakers, all these borders. So I'm saying that we getting the bad rap and they want this. They want this just like they want Africa. They want this real bad and they gonna get it. And then when they talk about merging, then let's talk about diluting your political power. See? And we're gonna, and we're gonna mess around, we're gonna be caught up in that, between that rock because the potential young leadership that we have are being suspended, put out of school, and going to jails. There's no mercy in the courtroom for our young people no more. See, when I was growing up, they said, when you go to prison, it was for rehabilitation, now they come straight out and say punishment.
Angela Robinson [00:56:54] Okay. Any additional comments or...?
Abdul Qahar [00:56:57] Yes, I think that what you're doing, this project, and I hope that it's... Get the best with the people that you interview, and I definitely want to get you Brother Ali's phone number. That's the brother that was on the fringe of the line. He is one of my best comrades. And, and I would not send you to anybody that is fake or phony. Um, and that if people do not accept this, then, you know, if you need help because we have our own program, it ain't aired yet, called Black Power Truth Hour. We fixin' to get ready to get on television, we have our own studio that we run. We have our recording studio where we fixin' to get ready to get some young artists in there. We working on these things and, and it's reason because those who control the media control the minds. If nobody won't accept what you're doing, then you put it down yourself and get it out here. Because the people, the people, the people need to hear this. People need to hear this. And it's like when I pass, pass that stuff out to a bunch of gangbangers. Brother, turn around a bicycle, and he came to me he said, man, what letter saying is so true. I said, But then the next step is stop doing it. See?
Angela Robinson [00:58:14] I've interviewed a lot of people these past month. Everyone seems to have the same rhetoric about how our family, how our, the Black...the Black family has changed so much. It's a breakdown in our family structure, it's a breakdown. Just... where families used to be back in the...
Abdul Qahar [00:58:49] Sixties, mm hmm.
Angela Robinson [00:58:49] Sixties was more, more close, or we looked out after one another. Nowadays it's not like that.
Abdul Qahar [00:58:59] It's a simple, simple process that they did on us and I was, I was a member... Most Panthers and revolutionaries back in the sixties, before the Panthers and the militant movement came about, we're most of us was part of the NAACP. Chairman Fred Hampton, Robert Williams, Negroes with Guns, the Deacons for Defense and Justice. I was also a member of the NAACP Youth Brigade, and they tried to integrate us in the early sixties. We, we, we, we, we boycotted integration. And when I came up north, we were fighting for integration. I'm going like, man, wait, hold on a minute. And, you know, because we knew that once they integrate our school, Booker T. Washington School won't be Booker T. Washington School no more, it would become the Blue Devils. Harriet Tubman School would not be Harriet Tubman School no more, it become the Vikings. So all of that cultural background, and when they integrated us in that integration, we lost a little bit. I'm not gonna bring my mother to the PTA meeting—you know, her breasts is this big and her hair is nappy and her butt this big—'cause that don't fit in that culture. So I want you all to drop me off a block away from my house because I don't want y'all to see where I'm living. So in that we will lose in all of that that we value, you know, and the next day we know, bam, the family structures, oh, you don't spank your kids, let them be, and he be a serial killer like my child. Oh, don't discipline your daughter, let her get hot just like my child. So all that, that value that we had in segregation. We threw it out, then now we found out that we threw the baby out with the water, with the bath water. Go with that segregation. We had to shop among each other so that money traveled in the Black community. Right on 105 where we had a Black Panther Party office at, it was called the Gold Coast, and we still worked that. That's my area. We call it Ten Five. I live in that area. We still call it Gold Coast and we say every young kid is there is nothing but a golden nugget, and we got to get that gold nugget. [laughs]. Okay. That's how we organize. But the family structure have broken down based upon that. Then what happened was what now and all the things that we value. Lost. Mamas don't want to raise babies. Brother gonna catch hell. Sister don't even know how to cook. Goin' to McDonald's. The kid, the baby know how to say McDonald's before Daddy, Mama. And raise hell... be riding on the bus... McDonalds! McDonalds! Boy, shut up. He fall on the floor, do the breakdance! Lost all of that when we integrated. Check this out too. Before that, all our teachers were Black. They know for you to grow means the race move forward. And when integration came, they lost their jobs. See? And the only way that we can win is if people say was, Brother Carr you talking about? You have to admit what make athletes great and athletic teams great is that when they lose a game they accept that they lost. Now how can we better that? We have to accept that we lost. But if we still going blindly like we lost nothing, then you figure you ain't got to fight for something. We lost! No school... Jails and prisons being built – the new modern day slavery. And they're going after the youth because if you young and I give you 17, 20 years, that 17, 20 years of free labor with a strong back. With a strong back. They don't need me. I'm too old. They want their young back. The young buck. And when they like the brother up, they... What, what we call it? The criminalization of a generation because when they lock him or her up, they put a they they they they produce glands that produce babies is locked up too. What, what, how a man gonna produce in a man prison and a woman goona produce in a woman prison? So they've done locked up a generation, an unseen generation. They know what they're doing. There are some evil peoples out here, and they don't want us. They don't need us. And Obama? I'm going with him based upon my obligation to go with him. But he just a new face that they're going to put on imperialism and capitalism, 'cause a white man ain't light no more. So he got to change the face. [Laughs] Oh, this has been a good interview. And thank you for letting me get it out. [cross talk] Yeah. Yeah.
Angela Robinson [01:04:11] Thank you. I appreciate it.
Abdul Qahar [01:04:11] Okay. Yeah
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