Longform

The X Files

Page 5 of 6

Controversy erupted again a month later when Muhammad sought permission to give another speech, this time to a crowd of both boys and girls, at East High School. Several school-board officials were against it, but the board finally okayed the presentation.

The East High speech was less incendiary, though Muhammad still got his jibes in. "I ain't got no apologies until you apologize for putting my people in slavery," he was quoted as saying.

Though some black leaders came to his defense, the white-hot media glare following the speeches did little to help the Nation's cause. At the same time, his efforts to organize a Million Man March rally in Denver, aided by city neighborhood-watch coordinator Alvertis Simmons, were undermined by infighting among various black organizations. Though Jeff X, a local Muslim businessman who runs an art store called the Black Market, was credited with putting together the coalition that went to Farrakhan's march in Washington, D.C., Simmons broke off prior to the Denver rally and formed his own group. Muhammad allied himself with Simmons, and the apparent outcome was that the two organizations canceled each other out.

"Brother Jamal and I, our relationship had become fractured due to the lack of experience on both our parts," says Jeff X. "The energy created after the Million Man March was so intense, people didn't have the experience to harness that kind of energy. Mistakes were made. Issues that affected us as a people--jealousy, greed, people doubting each other's motives--came up."

But both Muhammad and Jeff X say the bickering is in the past. At a rally last week for Farrakhan's latest cause--a "Day of Atonement" during which he asked black people to stay home from work--leaders from all of Denver's Million Man March organizations stood on the podium together, and Muhammad delivered an almost self-consciously mild speech.

"I'm not here to teach or preach," he told the crowd of about sixty people. "I'm just here to bear witness that we need to atone. I'm not gonna say anything controversial. I'm not gonna blast anyone today."

Late last summer, Muhammad and the Nation agreed that it was time for him to step down from running Mosque 51. "It was mutual," he says, denying that he was forced out. "Time for me to move on."

Muhammad says the media coverage he'd received wasn't a factor, but he acknowledges that he didn't always care for the public stage. "A lot of people recognized me," he says. "Some people looked at me with all this anger. It's not like I have all these bodyguards standing around."

He was replaced by a longtime fixture in the local Muslim community, Henri Muhammad, the same man who headed up the Nation's Denver office in the 1970s. Reverend Ford speculates that Jamal Muhammad was brought in to agitate, while Henri Muhammad is here to negotiate. "In the nation they send young men for war and old men for counsel," Jamal Muhammad replies. "In that sense, he's right. But the brother's always been there."

In recent months, Muhammad has been seen at poetry readings in Five Points reading love poems. He's also been spotted in less cozy surroundings. Only recently, he says, he spoke to a criminal-justice class at Metro, "blasting white folks.

"I didn't like how they were dealing with Alvertis," he says. "Even with his mistakes, I love him. He's a real person."

Muhammad says he thought about getting involved in the local rock scene while he was a minister, and he remains interested in putting a hip-hop music project together. He started at the Hue-Man Experience a month ago--a job that gives him plenty of time to think and plan his next course of action. Though owner Claire Villarosa has known Muhammad since he arrived in Denver, it wasn't until one of her employees recommended him that she considered him as a potential employee. She says she was wary of him preaching in the store. "I had to interview him, see where he was coming from," says Villarosa. "I liked what I heard."

Muhammad says he wants to leave Denver soon and embark on a national tour of high schools to spread the Nation's word. He also says his view of racial politics has expanded beyond the inequalities of black people to consider the inequalities of other people of color as well. And though he remains outspoken in his approach, he admits he may have been too sweeping in his past indictments.

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T.R. Witcher