Friday, July 10, 2009

Benjamin Chavis Muhammad

Benjamin Chavis Muhammad is an African American civil rights leader. He was born Benjamin Franklin Chavis, Jr. on January 22, 1948 in Oxford, North Carolina. Since 2001 he has been CEO and Co-Chairman of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network,[1][2] which he cofounded with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.



[edit] Education

Chavis was a 1965 graduate of Mary Potter High School in Oxford, and entered St. Augustine College as a freshman.[3] He earned a Bachelor of Arts in ChemistryUniversity of North Carolina at Charlotte (1969), a Master of Divinity (magna cum laude) from Duke University (1980), and a Doctor of Ministry from Howard University (1981). He was a graduate student at Union Theological Seminary.[4][5] from

[edit] Early life

As a twelve year old, Chavis effectively desegregated his hometown's public librarywhites, becoming the first African American with a library card there.[3][5] for

[edit] Career

[edit] SCLC, CORE, and AFSCME

In 1965, while a college freshman, Chavis became a statewide youth coordinator in North Carolina for the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He also joined CORE and AFSCME.[6]

[edit] Election campaign and teaching

Dr. Chavis also worked for the presidential campaign of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. He then returned to Oxford and taught at the then all-black Mary Potter High School.

[edit] United Church of Christ

Chavis was appointed a field officer in the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice in 1968. (The commission had been established in 1963 to coordinate justice strategies, community organization, and the like.[5])

In 1969, he was appointed Southern Regional Program Director of the 1.7 million member United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice (UCC-CRJ) and by 1985 was named the Executive Director and CEO of the UCC-CRJ.[7]

He was ordained in the United Church of Christ in 1980.[8] When (in 1997) he joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name to Benjamin Chavis Muhammad.

[edit] Wilmington Ten

He came to Wilmington, North Carolina in 1971 to help desegregate the public school system. He and nine others were arrested for a firebombing, charged with conspiracy and arson, and convicted in 1976. Chavis drew the longest sentence, 34 years. They were locked up nearly ten years, receiving international attention, until the conviction was overturned in 1980.[4][7]

Benjamin Chavis and nine others in 1978 were referred to as “American political prisoners” by Amnesty International as members of the Wilmington Ten. Although Chavis and his teenage codefendants were unjustly imprisoned in NC for most of the 1970s because of their challenge to racial segregation in the Wilmington public school system, the Wilmington Ten emerged victorious after nearly a ten-year international political and legal battle when the 4th Circuit US Court of Appeals overturned their convictions and cleared their names.

From this experience he wrote two books: An American Political Prisoner Appeals for Human Rights (while still in prison) and Psalms from Prison.

In 1978, he was named one of the first winners of the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award.

[edit] Environmental racism

Because of Dr. Chavis' scientific background, in 1981, he was the first person to coin the term environmental racism: “Racial discrimination in the deliberated targeting of ethnic and minority communities for exposure to toxic and hazardous waste sites and facilities, coupled with the systematic exclusion of minorities in environmental policy making, enforcement, and remediation.” To prove the validity of his definition, Chavis in 1986 conducted and published the landmark national study: Toxic Waste and Race in the United States of America, that statistically revealed the direct correlation between race and the location of toxic waste throughout the United States. Benjamin Chavis is considered by many environmental grassroots activists to be the “father of the post-modern environmental justice movement” that has steadily grown throughout the nation and world since the early 1980s.

[edit] National Council of Churches

In 1988, Dr. Chavis was elected Vice President of the National Council of Churches. He also served as chairman of its Prophetic Justice unit.[6]

[edit] NAACP

In 1993, Dr. Chavis became the youngest Executive Director and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). After an eighteen month tenure, the NAACP Board of Directors ousted Chavis, accusing him of using NAACP funds for an out-of-court settlement in a sexual harassmentlawsuit.[9][10]

[edit] Million man march

Dr. Chavis was a National Director of the controversial 1995 Million Man March[7]. He drew upon his years of experience as an advocate for African-American equality to help this political march reach its goals of increased political activity and awareness of issues by African Americans.

[edit] Newspaper and radio

Chavis wrote a nationally syndicated newspaper column Civil Rights Journal[6] from 1985 to 1993. At the same time, he produced and hosted a radio prgram of the same name.

[edit] African American Leadership Summit

Chavis was Executive Director and CEO of the National African American Leadership Summit (NAALS) from 1995 to 1997.[11][12]

[edit] Nation of Islam

Chavis joined the Nation of Islam in 1997. He was then appointed East Coast Regional Minister of the Nation of Islamand Minister of the historic Mosque Number Seven in Harlem, New York. Subsequently, he was also named as Special Assistant to Louis Farrakhan, a position he still maintains today.[13]

[edit] Hip hop

The journey into the Hip-Hop culture actually had its roots for Chavis dating back to 1969 when he was the proprietor and regular “DJ” and “MC” for The Soul Kitchen Disco in his hometown of Oxford, NC. In the 1970s, Chavis envisioned that there was a direct connection between the urban underground music and the post-civil rights era. During the 1980s, Chavis witnessed the growing popularity of hip-hop with disenfranchised youth entrapped into urban poverty.[citation needed]

While serving as a mentor to Sister Souljah, Kevin Powell, Little Rob, Ras Baraka and other hip-hop activists, Chavis met Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen in 1986 at Def Jam Records. As head of the NAACP in 1993, he worked with Run DMC to mobilize youth voters. Thus, it made perfect sense when hip-hop's premier video director, Hype Williams, cast Chavis in the pivotal role as the “Minister” in the 1998 hip-hop classic movie “Belly,” which starred superstar hip-hop artists Nas, Method Man and DMX.[citation needed]

More recently he performed the Intro and Outro to Jim Jones and the Diplomats 2004 hip-hop album, “On My Way to Church.” In 2005, he was the spoken word artist feature in Cassidy's latest platinum selling album ”I'm A Hustler.” When Chavis helped organize both the Million Man March (1995) and Million Family March (2000), Russell Simmons worked with him to mobilize hip-hop leaders to support the marches. Ultimately, the two men realized they had a similar vision for this generation of hip-hop youth, and to that end, they created the first national "Hip-Hop Summit" in New York City, from which grew the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN).[citation needed]

One-and-a-half years later, the HSAN is the largest and broadest national coalition of hip-hop artists, recording industry executives, youth activists and civil rights leaders. With the support of the major hip-hop labels, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and others, the HSAN has sponsored successful "Hip-Hop Summits" in New York, New York, Kansas City, Missouri, Oakland, California, Los Angeles, California, Washington, DC, Miami, Florida, Seattle, Washington, and Dallas, Texas.[citation needed] A 2004 event in Cleveland, Ohio was not so successful.[14]

Meetings with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), vocal stands before the U.S. Congress on the unconstitutionality of censoring rap lyrics, the development of literacy programs, Youth Councils, voter registration drives in conjunction with Rap The Vote, the voice for the poor, and the fight for children's public education, fill Chavis' days (and nights).[citation needed]

In 2002 Dr. Chavis and the HSAN joined the United Federation of Teachers and the New York Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) to organize the largest public demonstration since New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office. [15] The Washington Post reported, “Hip-hop's brightest stars, from P. Diddy to Jay-Z to Alicia Keys, lent a little star power today to a demonstration by roughly 100,000 students, teachers and rap fans who crammed eight blocks outside City Hall to protest drastic school budget cuts proposed by the new mayor.”[citation needed]

Recently, Chavis joined “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon, actor Bruce WillisRussell Simmons to demand adequate funding for education across the state of New York.[citation needed] and

The Hip-Hop Summit Action Network has benefited greatly from the leadership of Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., and the feeling is mutual: “The hip-hop generation is the most talented and socially conscious generation of youth that has ever emerged on the world stage to demand respect and justice for all,” he said.[citation needed]

He also was a spokes person for TI's Respect my vote campaign, and introduced TI's performance at the 2008 Famu Homecoming Concert in Tallahassee Florida, that was hosted by FAMU and Blazin 102.3.

[edit] Other memberships

  • CEO and founder of the National African American Leadership Summit
  • Chairman of the Prophetic Justice Unit of the NCC
  • Co-Chair of the Southern Organizing Committee for Economic/Social Justice
  • President of the Angolan Foundation
  • Co-Founder of the National Black Independent Political Party
  • President of the Board of the Washington Office on Africa
  • Member of the Clinton/Gore Transition Team for the National Resources Center[16]

[edit] Personal

Dr. Chavis is married to Martha Rivera Chavis and the father of eight children.

He is a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc.[17][18]

Chavis's great-great-grandfather, educator Reverend John Chavis, was the first African American ordained Presbyterian minister.[19]

He has told an interviewer he reads books on chemistry, for pleasure.[8]

[edit] Publications

[edit] Popular culture

He appeared as the "Minister" in Hype Williams' 1998 movie "Belly".

He appeared in skits on Jim Jones' debut album "On My Way to Church", as well as the track "Concrete Jungle" on Jones' third studio album, "Hustler's P.O.M.E."

He has been quoted on "Ringing Bells", a track from Masta Killa's album Made In Brooklyn.

He also appeared on a track called "The Message" on Cassidy's I'm A Hustla.

He appeared in Spike Lee's film about the Million March, Get on the Bus.

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