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Yusuf Bey and his associates have enjoyed some of the finest perks Oakland has to offer: a bully pulpit on the black community's most important television station, vast city subsidies, contracts worth a small fortune, and favors from the most powerful men and women in town. Even after Nedir Bey walked away with $1.1 million in city funds, the Community and Economic Development Agency was prepared to give Yusuf Bey's bakery a $10,000 facade-improvement grant until Councilwoman Jane Brunner put a stop to it.
But time may be running out for Bey and his associates. Slowly but surely, the city is moving to collect its $1.1 million loan to Nedir Bey. The city got a judgment against him one year ago, and the interest is accumulating by tens of thousands of dollars annually. He's also under investigation by the Fair Political Practices Committee, and sources close to the Bey family report that Nedir and Yusuf stopped talking to one another within the last year.
As the fallout from Yusuf Bey's arrest spread throughout Oakland, civic leaders began to distance themselves from him. His position as vice president of Black Men First came under intense scrutiny. Why, people asked, was a man charged with such a monstrous crime serving as vice president of an organization dedicated to turning young men away from crime?
According to Councilman Reid, it didn't help that Bey and his followers clumsily exploited Black Men First to launder his public image. By universal consent, the group's meetings have always been closed to the press. But when Reid walked into the meeting immediately following Bey's first bust, he saw a crew of Black Muslims videotaping the event. A few days later, Bey broadcast that videotape on Soul Beat, and Reid watched footage of himself, Carson, and Oakland Police Chief Richard Word sitting on the same stage as Bey, basking in the crowd's accolades. "It gave the impression that we were supporting him," Reid complains. "He played it on his show on Soul Beat, and next thing I know, I'm getting calls from black women at home, saying 'How can you stand up there with that man?' "
Soon, Reid adds, he was catching hell from his own family. "My wife and kids read the newspaper and said 'Daddy, how can you go to those meetings?'" he says. "I'm a father with two daughters, and if the allegations being raised against Dr. Bey are true, I would be incensed. So I decided I could not be a part of an organization whose co-chair was having these allegations. I'd rather step back, take the heat from Dr. Bey and whoever else, and keep doing my work."
Reid wasn't the only public figure under fire. Pastor Bob Jackson of Acts Full Gospel Church, the president of Black Men First, started fielding angry calls from residents all over the city. It was just a matter of weeks before Bey resigned in disgrace.
His standing has since crumbled further. At his November 14 court appearance -- when the district attorney's office charged him with another 26 counts of rape and committing a lewd act with a minor, and Judge Allan Hymer set his bail at $1 million -- the Tribune reported that Bey's face went slack with shock, and his men surged from their chairs as he was led away. If convicted, he could face from fifteen years to life in prison.
If the district attorney's allegations are true, how could Yusuf Bey have presided over a regime of such brutality and fraud for so long? How could so many men and women have meekly accepted their places in such an iron hierarchy? Tarika Lewis still remembers what brought her into Bey's orbit.
"I don't say everybody's lost, but the average black person wants to have something they can call their own," she says. "Oakland had a black downtown ... When that economic base was systematically removed, that did away with those businesses. This is the key. Because what happened after that, crime and unemployment went up, the lack of housing went up. The loss of that economic base was monumental. We're still feeling that effect, and it's five generations deep.
"So when someone stands up in the community and starts a business that's employing people, when he tries to do what he preaches, and has the appearance of clean living, when he's an alternative to what the media's projecting -- with the high infant mortality rate, the high crime and drugs, and mortality of young black men -- people start listening to that."
The tragedy, Lewis suggests, is that people will still cling to the promise of Yusuf Bey long after they've seen his real face. They still need a sense of dignity, of ownership and pride, and they'll hold on to it even if it costs them their souls. "There's no men down there," she says. "There's no women down there. They're just little boys and girls -- their emotional development stopped once they agreed with whatever went on before their eyes. For someone to not stand up for their own children, for them to say nothing and turn their head, there's something wrong with them. ... This is supposed to be a way of peace? Of justice and equality? Is this the heaven that he's building?
"Maybe people are so desperate," Lewis sighs, "they're so thirsty for any type of family environment, they'll take anything that goes along with it, warts and all."
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