The voicemail simply asked whether The DC Voice was interested in sharing the narrative of a Black man, who’s also a black Muslim in America today. The hour-long conversation with Clarence Cherry, entrepreneur, former DC firefighter, activist, father of 5 and the CEO and Founder of Health & Wealth Nation, LLC shed new light on an old religion and the role Mr. Cherry envisions it playing in helping our youth recognize their gifts and potential. Mr. Cherry represents a voice very seldom heard from; a Black man introduced to the Islamic faith by his parents at a very early age. Here are some excerpts from that conversation.
Mr. Cherry. I’m a native Washingtonian, born and raised, third generation. Grew up in far Southeast DC. I came from humble beginnings. I came up in a time where we were coming out of the Dr. King riots. The climate of the civil rights movement coming into play. Didn’t really see a lot of that over there where I grew up. I personally, as a young kid, didn’t experience the burning and the mayhem that some of the other parts of the city experienced during that period, and I guess that was for a reason.
I came from a large family, seven sisters, three boys. I’m the oldest boy. My parents came up under the Black Muslim movement. They were in the Nation of Islam by the time I was 7 or 8 they had started transitioning out because there was some disagreement within the nation that was going on and so my dad and my mom they separated themselves from the nation.
ON COMMUNITY & ISLAM
Mr. Cherry. I grew up around a community where family was important. Where blackness meant a whole lot. We’re talking about the early ’70s to late 70s. It was a community. It was a village I grew up in. Didn’t know a lot of Muslims in my project. Probably the majority of the faith that was there was Christians, but it didn’t really matter to me at that point what you were. What I recognized was that you had adults that if they saw you doing stuff that you not supposed to do, they could deal with you accordingly. Which allowed me to be the human being that I am today because of that upbringing.
And so moving forward, my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The cancer struck. It hit him fast, and he was gone. Eight months from diagnosis to his demise. But before he left, he gave me a gift. Out of all the time that I did get a chance to spend with my pop, he gifted me this scripture here (pointing to his Quran).
Once he introduced this book to me, the course began for me as a black man coming out of the projects escaping in the 80s all the drugs and mayhem that a lot of my friends and my peers fell victim to. I would say this saved me. This basis and this foundation for understanding that I had more of a purpose then go out here and be chaotic or use the excuses that well my daddy wasn’t in my house, so I got to hit the streets and hustle and do some of the stuff that a lot of my peers succumb to.
BEING MUSLIN IN TODAY’S CLIMATE
Mr. Cherry. Being black, being Muslim and now with the climate of deportation of immigrants, and Muslims, that’s been in the papers where the president wants to do away with if you if you’re Muslim or immigrants or if you just don’t fit a certain look, you don’t really have a place here. I myself being black in America, I don’t really pay much attention to that. I don’t pay much attention to that because what I have developed in my foundation in my faith; it affords me not to get caught up into that distraction. I see that as a distraction as a black man in this country.
I used to get agitated by things like that out of ignorance because you just don’t know what you don’t know. But until I had to realize if we know our history and you know the history of this country and you understand we are operating under a total system that really as a group of people we are not ready to do anything about that.
And the reason why I say that is that this has been going on ever since I was a little kid and when I say we aren’t ready to do anything about it because I don’t really concern myself about somebody saying because you’re Muslim we’re going to target you because my Book already explains the behavior of people like that.
Mr. Cherry. One of the things we are working on right now is going around to the different mosques and sitting down and putting together a movement to save our young brothers in this city from killing each other. I’m an old soul right. Dr. King used the youth. If you look at his strategy, that’s who he utilized. He utilized the energy of the youth. That’s what I see today.
The youth is the answer, but it’s going to take us, wise men and women, the elders to be able to shape and mold them and we can’t get them all, and I must be realistic about that. One of the ground-breaking testaments for us is to bring those young people that we are talking about that have everything at their disposal and don’t know their worth or their value right now is to set up an environment. It could be right here and you ain’t got to get all of them we just need to get a few of them and sit them here and we just talk, and you meet them where they are.
You don’t come in here scolding them about their pants sagging. You don’t come in here and talk about what they’re not doing. I just want to listen. We have to have dialog, and we’re not having enough dialog with our young people. A lot of them have got the answers, believe it or not.
The next phase is really letting our young people know what they’re worth and value is. It really is, and to be honest, I can only speak for my circle. I can’t speak for what the next man is not doing. If we can just take the time, and it’s real simple, real subtle especially as black men dealing with black men just let another young brother know hey man, I know things seem a little rough, but you don’t realize you’re a king.
THE YOUTH & ISLAM
Mr. Cherry: Me and my elder, he’s 83, and he’s prepping for the other side, want to do something solid. One of the things he says that’s really been not allowing him to sleep is how do we prevent these young brothers from hurting each other. I said when you look around the city; we have about 6 or 7 Mosques right here where African Americans are the delegates… is to sit down with the Imams, the ministers from these mosques and bring this to the forefront and let them know that this is a crisis. This is an epidemic, and we have to spearhead something, and we’ve got to do it now.
Because if we don’t do it now, it’s going to get so far out ahead of us that we ain’t going to be able to pull it back in. So, we’re strategizing with the other mosques that we can come out the mosques and go into the neighborhood and meet these brothers and dialog. We are going to meet them on their grounds and let them know how precious life is.
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