Charing Ball recently wrote an excellent article for Madame Noire, where she discusses the latest shenanigans of Dr. Umar Johnson, a favorite in many afrocentric/ black nationalist/ Pan-Africanist circles. Johnson is currently seeking donations to buy St. Paul’s College a former HBCU that closed June 30, 2013. Johnson is proposing to buy the property for $5 million dollars and to start the Frederick Douglass Marcus Garvey RGB International Leadership Academy. Charing Ball aptly lays out many reasons why this is problematic. She discusses his homophobia and his misogyny which can be seen in many of the videos of lectures and interviews he has given online. Throughout his work are bizarre conspiracy theories about homosexuality as plot by white supremacists to destroy or depopulate the black community and a host of other pseudo-scientific views. He is also a misogynist who blames black women for psychologically damaging their sons and making them gay. He is also featured in the Hidden Colors series, directed by fellow pseudo-historian Tariq Nasheed. I shudder to think what hateful men this school would turn out, when its founders ideologies label black women and black gays and lesbians as race traitors or potential enemies of the black community.
But another one of the big issues with his proposal is his lack of a business plan. Johnson proposes to purchase the campus for $5 million but there is no discussion of the annual cost of running or maintaining the campus. Or what tuition may cost to families who are daft enough to send their children to be influenced by this man. Not to mention that this would be a pretty ostentatious move for anyone to make, but particularly when they haven’t even opened or operated a school themselves. There is absolutely no indication from his previous endeavors that he is capable of running a food truck, let alone an 11-building 185 acre college campus. Doesn’t seem to be a good start for a school, the aims of which are to teach students how to be self-employed and entrepreneurial, does it?
Johnson has also opted for a few of the least transparent ways to fund raise in the digital age utilizing donations from PayPal and snail mail. The lack of transparency, his dubious credentials, and his hateful views should be more than enough to give one pause. It has been interesting especially to see people I know who are apt to regard church finances skeptically due to a lack of transparency and follow through, expressing enthusiasm over the mere two and a half minute video of Johnson requesting donations. It reminds me of the film When Cotton Comes to Harlem, adapted from the novel by Chester Himes. In it Reverend Deke O’Malley presents himself as a Marcus Garvey like figure, raising funds for a ship line to transport black people in America to Africa. It doesn’t take long before it is revealed that O’Malley is running a scam. The film is pretty entertaining but what it impressed upon me as a child is that not everyone who claims to represent or work towards the betterment of the black community or social justice is doing so. I cannot say with absolutely certainty that this will turn out to be a scam like the one in the film but I think that given the lack of forethought and transparency that it is certainly likely. But, even if Johnson’s plans for the donated funds he is receiving are above board (since I doubt that he will raise the $5 million or be able to maintain the St. Paul’s Campus if he were able to acquire it), there is no way that he can be working to improve the black community while embracing an ideology that casts parts of that community, the same gender loving black men and women, black mothers, etc as race traitors, mentally ill, or otherwise deviant. It is an ideology that he intends to teach to impressionable young children.
The defense of Johnson and reactions to the criticism of Charing Ball is demonstrative of the paranoia and misogyny that seems to be part and parcel of many of these afrocentric/ Pan-Africanist/ black nationalist or what I like to call tofu-dashikiist communities. Merely being a woman questioning the motives or methods of people like Johnson, Tariq Nasheed, and others is enough to get you labeled as a lesbian (as though that is the worst thing you can be) or “negro bed wench”. This is something I have experienced directly on many occasions, including, when I and Kimberly Veal criticized the Hidden Colors series. What does it say about these men, these movements, and their followers, when any question or challenge to their views is met with such vitriol? What does it say that challenges to their world view are not evaluated based on their merits? To me it says that they value ideology above all even the community they are supposed to help.