Chavis Muhammad envisions 'inclusive' NOI Ex-head of NAACP says goal is to aid Farrakhan

February 26, 1997|By James Bock | James Bock,SUN STAFF

Benjamin F. Chavis Muhammad, the former NAACP leader who joined the Nation of Islam last weekend, said yesterday he would work to make the black separatist group "inclusive of all God's people, not just black people."

Chavis Muhammad, 49, told a sympathetic audience at Coppin State College that "God called me into the Nation of Islam for a purpose" -- to help Louis Farrakhan. He said it was "preposterous" to speculate that he was being groomed to succeed the 63-year-old Farrakhan, who has battled prostate cancer in recent years.

Chavis Muhammad was fired in 1994 as executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People after he secretly committed up to $332,400 in NAACP funds to settle an aide's threatened sexual harassment suit.

Since then, he has been a close ally of Farrakhan and helped him organize the Million Man March, reportedly the largest gathering ever of black Americans.

The new convert said he will be a roaming Nation of Islam minister until Farrakhan gives him a specific assignment. Although Chavis Muhammad has been found personally liable for $245,200 owed to the former NAACP aide, he said his conversion was a spiritual decision, not a way to pay the bills.

He is also an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ but said he had not rejected his Christian faith.

"I'm not taking Jesus out of my life," Chavis Muhammad said. "I know people wonder how can a Christian minister now be an Islamic minister. The Scripture says all things are possible."

He also said it was possible for the Nation of Islam to welcome other races, although its ministers have referred to whites as "devils" over the years.

One of the group's tenets is that a mad black scientist created whites in a misguided experiment 6,600 years ago.

Chavis Muhammad appeared in a Black History Month program at Coppin with his spiritual mentor, the Rev. Charles Cobb. Cobb preceded Chavis as head of the United Church of Christ's Commission on Racial Justice.

Cobb, 80, said he was "shocked" when he heard through family members that Chavis Muhammad had converted and wished he had heard the news from his protege himself.

But he said he was not opposed to the conversion.

Chavis Muhammad "is like a son to me. I don't want anybody to use him, and that includes Louis Farrakhan," Cobb said in an interview. "I know he is vulnerable as all young people are. I don't view it as a loss. It may be a gain to bring [black Americans] together."

Zachary McDaniels, an NAACP youth leader under Chavis Muhammad, said that he would "stand with him as a friend" but that he was concerned joining the Nation of Islam would narrow Chavis Muhammad's base of support as a leader.

Robert Johnson, a Coppin senior, said he believed Chavis Muhammad was sincerely searching for "real meaning in his relationship with God."

Other students crowded around the Nation of Islam minister to seek autographs.

Chavis Muhammad was clearly getting used to his new identity. He signed several autographs as "Benjamin F. Chavis Jr." before remembering to add "Muhammad."

Pub Date: 2/26/97

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