How Official Oakland Kept the Bey Empire Going 

The troublesome history of Oakland's most prominent Black Muslims -- and the political establishment that protects them.

Page 8 of 9


One month ago, Yusuf Bey broadcast his first sermon since resigning from Black Men First. An impeccably dressed young man in a white suit and black shirt took the podium to introduce the man who had saved his life. Holding up his own rap sheet, the young man began to read off all the criminal charges ever brought against him. Murder. Robbery. Assault. Drugs. Guns. "I'm a cold-hearted criminal," he said, "and this dude done went out of his way to help me get my business started. He done bought licenses, he done bought me trademarks, he done got my bank account started, he done did all my paperwork for me."

The young man nervously shuffled two slips of paper. As his eyes flitted from the crowd to the words he had written, he bebopped a poem about his mentor's downfall:

"An old lady once told me love don't have no strings attached./Well, if that's the case, how you gonna do my father like that?/If you really wanna know if what happened to Dr. Bey was wrong/Jesus himself said let him who is perfect cast the first stone./I heard there was an organization called Black Men First./Seems like a contradiction to me, 'cause the first thing you do is treat this black man like he was plagued with a curse."

Although his voice was deadpan, the tone conjured up a certain quiet menace as he made apparent allusions to Black Men First president Jackson and Tribune reporter Bailey, who covered Bey's resignation from the group. "Mr. Preacher Man, Mr. Preacher Man, you sit high upon your pulpit./I got two words for how you treated my father: Bull----./Mr. Media Man, Mr. Media Man, you seem to have lost your soul./Don't believe me, take a close look at the people you work fo'./Here's a hint to the riddle: does their skin seem to be a tad bit pale?/Wake up you damn fool, it ain't Dr. Bey they want. From the first, they been wantin' all black men in jail./Willie Lynch says separate 'em and keep the light-skin eggs over there./Oh I guess you think you better than us 'cause you work for the paper, a proud uppity nigger with curly hair. ..."

"Dr. Bey, don't worry about yesterday, let it signal a new start," he concluded. "But you know, I bet you a million dollars your sins don't match mine, for I'm proud to say I was born with a criminal heart./So whatever you do, have faith and be strong./This is only a temporary defeat -- real soldiers move on." The crowd cheered, and he stepped to the side, adding: "I love you."

Bey walked to the podium clad in a blood-red suit, a bow tie, and fez framing his face. He struggled to choke back tears for a moment. "I didn't know that my brother would be up here opening up for me like that," he fumbled.

He started slow and humble, explaining the endgame that forced him from Black Men First. "If I can't be of service, if I can't help, then I don't want to hinder," he said. "And if my presence hindered Black Men First, then naturally I would want to resign and apologize to Bob Jackson."

But as he warmed up, Yusuf Bey rallied his troops one more time, before the judgment of men descended upon him. "But the thing of it is," he said, "what I would like to see out of Black Men First was a group of strong black men who choose our own leaders through democracy, voting. And then back up our leaders. Knowing that as soon as you organize, your enemies are gonna try to divide and conquer."

"That's right!" his men shouted.

"This has always been the trick. Willie Lynch set that trick up. You know? None of us are perfect. None of us are free of sin. You crazy if you sittin' behind your desk pointing your finger at me. God lookin' at you! God knows what you do! And you know, we're all sorry, we all make changes, we all go through life making errors and then change for the best...

"I thought this would be a black organization that understood this. That we're built from criminals." Gesturing to the young man who introduced him, Bey bellowed, "This brother, this is the backbone of Black Men First! Not the holy, righteous, pure angels out there, no! It's the man been in the mud! Who has stood up and cleaned himself up! That's what Black Men First means!"

Bey's men cheered, and he finished with his ritual coda.

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