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.

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* Even after losing this $1.1 million, the city of Oakland gave Nedir Bey $14,000 to finance his unsuccessful campaign to win a seat on the city council. Bey repeatedly has refused to explain how he spent the money -- and may have violated campaign-finance regulations to get some of it.

* The Soul Beat cable channel -- which serves as the local black community's only television outlet for discussion of critical issues -- has banned discussion of the charges facing Yusuf Bey, who pays station owner Chuck Johnson an undisclosed fee to broadcast his hate-filled sermons every week.

Now that Yusuf Bey has been arrested for a remarkable 27 felony counts of rape and committing a lewd act with a minor, this landscape of influence is finally crumbling around him and his associates. But how is it that all these allegations, which are documented in a decade-long string of police reports and court records, failed to trouble the city's leaders? Indeed, why have the Beys enjoyed the patronage of such powerful friends?

The story told by Tarika Lewis makes these questions more urgent than ever.

Back in the '50s, when West Oakland's black commercial corridor bustled with thriving businesses, Lewis' grandfather ran a boxing gym on 5th Street. Her father was a professional boxer and good husband, the kind of man who would leave the house when he grew angry rather than curse at his wife. Lewis grew up in a North Oakland neighborhood so quiet that no one locked their doors at night, but as the '60s rolled on, she watched the city's best black neighborhoods hollowed out by Urban Renewal, their men left idle as manufacturing jobs disappeared. Determined to do something for her people, Lewis first joined the Black Panthers, then switched to the Nation of Islam in the early '70s.

"I came into the Nation of Islam seeking some peace, trying to build a nation, trying to build black businesses," she says. "With my young eyes and my young heart, my optimism, I really felt that these black people were honest about building something in the community that would change the way people ate as far as natural foods, to establish businesses that would employ people in the community."

Lewis married a man with three children from a previous relationship, and together they had a child of their own. She attended classes at Merritt College and worked part-time at the headquarters of Yusuf Bey's empire, Your Black Muslim Bakery on San Pablo Avenue. She even cut the first deal to stock the college's cafeteria with bakery bread. But trouble was brewing inside the Nation. A culture of violence was slowly growing within the organization, she says, and the beating of women was becoming a regular occurrence. Appalled, Lewis eventually broke with Yusuf Bey.

"My father's hands were registered weapons, because he was a professional boxer, but he never put his hands on me or my mother," she says. "I didn't know what domestic violence was. So when a man starts hitting a woman, that was hard for me to comprehend. It was hard for me to stomach or sit around, pretending that it was not happening."

Soon thereafter, Lewis and her husband divorced for unrelated reasons. But by then she had grown to love her stepchildren as her own, and she resolved to keep them in her life. So when her husband placed them under the foster care of Yusuf Bey, Lewis tried to stay in touch with them. But for years, she claims, she got nowhere. "I wasn't able to talk to them," she says. "They wouldn't let me. Every time I called down there, they weren't available. There was nothing I could do."

She finally managed to see one of the children in 1981. Spotting one of Bey's bakery vans on 59th Street, she walked up and saw her thirteen-year-old stepdaughter sitting in the passenger van, clearly in the late stages of pregnancy. And Lewis says she concluded -- by the expression on her stepdaughter's face, by the way she hung her head and carried herself -- that the father was none other than the man who sat next to her behind the wheel, 45-year-old Yusuf Bey.

Lewis spent the next five years telling her story to anyone who would listen. She says she filed a complaint with the Alameda County office of Child Protective Services, alleging that the young girl had been impregnated by her own foster father. But when county officials investigated the allegation, Lewis claims, they interviewed the girl while in the presence of Yusuf Bey. The terrified girl said nothing, and the social workers closed the case and went home. Officials with the county Social Services Agency declined to respond to these allegations.

But Lewis wasn't finished. She talked to Oakland police officers, but they said to call Child Protective Services. She called a bevy of lawyers, but they all said that since she wasn't the girl's biological mother, she had no legal standing. She talked to numerous Christian and Muslim ministers, but they said they could do nothing. "I tried to alert the authorities, but I got so much flak and nonresponse," she says. "I went to a couple of ministers -- I had to get this off my chest, this was overwhelming. They told me to report it, but I said I already had. As far as the Muslim community, they said he was not a part of the mosque; he was not in the Nation. So there was nothing they could do about it."


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