WHAT COMMUNITY ACTIVISTS WANT IN 2015

HOUSTON – As the year 2015 has arrived, five of Houston’s more well known African-American community organizers and activists shared with African-American News&Issues, their thoughts on the most pressing issues affecting African-Americans. We spoke with community activist, native Houstonian and lawyer, Jolanda Jones; Minister Robert Muhammad, who leads Muhammad Mosque No. 45 in Houston and has been a community activist in Houston for over 30 years; Minister Quanell X who leads the New Black Panther Party in Houston, and has been a popular television commentator; Minister Deric Muhammad founding director of the Houston-based Black male initiative, Project Foward; and Brother Kofi Taharka, National Chairperson of the (Houston Chapter) National Black United Front. We asked various questions of each, and here’s what they had to say:

AframNews.com: Do you foresee the City of Houston electing a Black mayor in 2015?

Jolanda Jones:
If Black people vote in 2015, a Black person can be elected. We showed the power of our collective vote with President Obama (in 2008 and 2012). We can can also do it at the local level. Yes.
Minister Robert Muhammad:
There is a possibility of electing a Black mayor, but the current division in Black political life in Houston will result in the election of a White mayor.
Quanell X:
The question is, can we elect a Black mayor? Lee Brown was a certified negro mayor. Houston has never had a Black mayor such as Chicago’s Harold Washington or Washington D.C.’s Marion Barry, even in spite of what some may think of him. Yes, the question is, can we elect a Black mayor?
Minister Deric Muahmmad:
Of course there is a difference between a “Black mayor” and a “negro mayor”. We hope to elect a Black mayor. It is possible, if we exercise the principle of unity. However, if the Black vote is divided, we may miss that opportunity.
Kofi Taharka:
Any politician needs to change the way we deal with politics and get on a grass roots level. So just having a ‘Black face’ in a ‘hot place’ does not necessarily represent our issues. I can’t answer that. But I (do) want to know where someone stands.

AframNews.com: Do infrastructure developments in Houston adequately serve the Black community?

Jolanda Jones:
No,  and infrastructure in Black neighborhoods isn’t on par with other more affluent neighborhoods. Take for example the Kirby corridor versus the Cullen corridor.  Kirby got over $10 million dollars more for their project did than Cullen.
The infrastructure below Kirby was repaired to stop flooding; sidewalks were made wider for walking; bus stops were placed there with covers; trash cans were put there so trash would have a place to go; bike racks were put in place for alternative transportation; big healthy trees were planted for shade and beauty; street signs were made pretty.
Along Cullen, no sidewalks were added until recently and they are narrow. Bus stops don’t have covers and there are no trash  cans so that pedestrians have a place to put trash. The infrastructure under the street was not repaired to stop flooding. The pathetic trees they planted there look like scare crows.  Furthermore, the trees are dangerous because they impede driver’s ability to see oncoming traffic.
With the passage of the drainage fee, we were promised that our our streets would be fixed, and a stop to flooding. Instead, all most Black neighborhoods have seen are a few narrow sidewalks; whereas other neighborhoods have had their streets repaired, flooding has stopped, and they’ve got nice wide sidewalks with bike racks, trash cans, and trees. …(Yeah) They pee on us and then tell us it’s rain.
Minister Robert Muhammad:
The world is run by those who show up. If we don’t show up at the Houston I.S.D, Metro, Public Works Committee meetings, and other planning meetings, how can we expect to plan it? Listen, if you are not in the kitchen preparing the meal, you might just find yourself on the menu.
Quanell X:
Infrastructure in the 3rd and 4th Wards are most often hi-rises and town-homes designed not to enrich the people, but rather for “urban renewal” which is code-named “negro removal” meant to move Black people out.
Minister Deric Muhammad:
Black neighborhoods are not on par with others. (But) we must not sit around and wait for the government to make our neighborhoods decent places to live. Because the city and county do not value Black life, they do not value Black quality of life. We must unite, demand what resources are rightfully ours and take control of what goes up, as well as what comes down on our side.
Kofi Taharka:
When change finally comes and the new sidewalks are built, we often find different people are walking on them. Take, for example, Emancipation Park, Black people worked on that place for years at the grass roots level. Then when change comes, you start seeing White people moving in. We are no longer the primary beneficiaries of that change.

AframNews.com:What are your thoughts on Community Policing?

Jolanda Jones:
Community policing. What community policing? It doesn’t exist.
Minister Robert Muhammad:
There is no substitute for justice. But first and foremost the (Black) community needs to examine its own uncivilized behaviors and make our neighborhoods decent places to live, so that we don’t need policemen patrolling us. The police (also) need to clean up their ranks and get rid of dirty cops, and end forever the “blue wall” of silence.
Quanell X:
For decades we have asked for civilian review boards. Police unions will not allow civilian review boards to exists; at least none with any subpoena power.
Minister Deric Muhammad:
(Community policing) is not as organized as it should be. Groups like INCERT (Inner City Emergency Response Team), NBUF and others are doing great things to make the community safer. Many civic clubs have community watch programs. There are even so-called gangs who look after the elderly and make sure aspects of the neighborhood are safe. I think the greatest of all community policing efforts come in the form of neighbors watching one another’s backs under everyday circumstances. Community policing takes place every day. It must, however, be more organized and less politicized.
Kofi Taharka:
We were at a rally at HPD 20 years ago, and we are still here doing the same thing. We need to have our own good communities; we need affordable housing, quality education, and economic opportunities so that we can cut the number of police, and the number of prisons intended for “us”.

AframNews.com: Do you feel Grand Jury reform is necessary in Texas?

Jolanda Jones:
Yes, grand jury reform is necessary.  It should not be cronyism as it is now. Judges should not be allowed to pick their friends. Grand juries should be as diverse as all of Harris County. Prosecutors should not be the only lawyers who can speak with the grand jury. Defense lawyers should (also) have a right to present before the grand jury.Minister Robert Muhammad:
Yes, it absolutely needs to be reformed. But again, there is no substitution for justice.
Quanell X:
Yes, and not only that, but I also believe that police officers should not be allowed to serve on grand juries where they hear cases involving other police officers. They become (additional) advocates on the grand jury. That’s like putting a father on a grand jury to hear a case against his own son.
Minister Deric Muhammad:
Grand jury reform is mandatory, if there is to ever be justice and equity in Houston/Harris County. Where there is no justice, there can never be peace. The current system must be completely dismantled and balanced by a Civilian Review Board with real subpoena and prosecutorial powers.

AframNews.com:Who most inspired your community activism and how would you like to be remembered by both supporters and detractors of your service?

Jolanda Jones:
That’s easy. No doubt about it, my mother! She’d literally dragged me to Shape Center every weekend to do service for others. So because of her, I have been an activist all  my life. I’m literally a “Shape Baby”! My mother, her mother, and now even my son is an activist. I’d want both my supporters and others to say of me: “She fought for equality for everyone, and most (especially) that she was a great mom!”
Minister Robert Muhammad:
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. I have been inspired by his love, courage, and his vision; and by his undying love for God, The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and Black people. I’d want both my supporters and others to say of me: “He had consistency in ‘all’ things.”
Quanell X:
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. He is everything I thought a Black man should be. I saw nurturing, guidance, a developer, a corrector and discipliner – he has been that for me and many others. I’d want both my supporters and others to say of me: “When nobody else would stand to protect Black people, Brother Quanell would!”
Minister Deric Muhammad:
I have been inspired by many people; some living, some gone. However, the single individual who has most inspired me is Minister Louis Farrakhan. I’d want both my supporters and others to say of me: In truth, I never concern myself with legacy.
That never crosses my mind. At this stage in my life, I could care less what people think of me when I am gone. If I submit my will to do God’s will, then He will take care of that for me.
Kofi Taharka:
Many, many, many people inspired me. But if I had to pick just one, I’d say Malcolm X. I have studied, listened to and admired his ability to not only articulate the issues, but to put forth real solutions to solve them.  I’d want both my supporters and others to say of me: “He was all about servanthood. He sought real structural change in this criminal justice system.”