A Chicago charter school that recently received a grant of federal funds was founded and is led by activists who have been closely tied to the Nation of Islam while its campuses are named after former Nation of Islam activists and black radicals, WND has learned.
The federal government allocated $47,766 of funds from the Recovery Act for a food program for the Betty Shabazz International Charter Academy. This includes the 2010-2011 school year in which the funds were distributed to the USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program for the school.
Shabazz, which has classes for children in kindergarten through 12th grade, is one of about 40 schools in Illinois to be awarded the “recovery” funds as part of the food program, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
Shabazz Charter School’s official profile says the academy “incorporates culture from countries throughout the continent of Africa and throughout the Diaspora into our rigorous and competitive curriculum.”
Laini Madhubuti, the charter school’s public relations manager, told WND in a phone interview the school has no religious affiliation whatsoever. Madhubuti is also the daughter of the school’s founder and leader, who has been close to the Nation of Islam. She said the school is not connected to the Nation of Islam.
Named after radicals
The school is named after Betty Shabazz, an early Nation of Islam activist best known as the wife of slain black nationalist leader Malcolm X. Shabazz, born Betty Dean Sanders, met her future husband in 1956 at a Nation of Islam lecture in Harlem, later converting to Islam.
Malcolm X departed from the Nation of Islam leadership before his assassination to organize a politically oriented “black nationalist party.” Some reports noted Shabazz herself returned to the orbit of the Nation of Islam after her husband’s death.
Shabazz originally harbored resentment toward the Nation, but she agreed to a so-called “peace deal” with Louis Farrakhan in 1995. That truce was brokered by Haki Madhubuti, one of the founders of the charter school.
One of three campuses of the Betty Shabazz International Charter Academy is named after Barbara A. Sizemore, who was the first African-American woman to head a major school system when she was chosen as superintendent of D.C. schools in 1973. Sizemore died at the age of 77 in 2004.
A Washington Post obituary noted Sizemore called standardized tests “the new lynching tool” for the aspirations of African-Americans.
She wrote in 1989 that “it seems the best way to eliminate tests is to help minorities to pass them.” She added, “Tests can then become the diagnostic tools they were meant to be instead of the mechanism for separating winners and losers.”
Sizemore clearly was a black nationalist activist.
Marxist professor Manning Marable wrote in the 1981 SWP Education For Socialists Bulletin that Sizemore rejected a compromise resolution that aimed to temper a new political party being formed at the time by the National Black Political Assembly. The compromise sought to build a broad base coalition within 90 days of an August 1980 planning meeting.
Wrote Marable: “A dramatic turn of events occurred several hours later with the Friday evening plenary address of Dr. Barbara Sizemore. Sizemore publicly repudiated the compromise in a fiery speech. ‘The revolution is now, and not in 90 days,’ she declared firmly.”
Founded by Nation of Islam supporters
The charter school was co-founded by Carol D. Lee and her husband, Don L. Lee, who changed his name to Haki Madhubuti. It was also founded by Anthony Daniels-Halisi, who currently serves as the school’s chief financial officer.
Madhubuti, a black nationalist poet, has helped broker deals for Farrakhan, including the peace with Shabazz, sealed publicly at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York.
“It (the peace deal) was broadcast to a closed-circuit audience around the world,” wrote Jonathan Tilove of the Newhouse News Service.
Madhubuti hosted a meeting at his Third World Press, an African American-centered nationalist press, for the planning of Farrakhan’s 1995 Million Man March.
In the interview with WND, Madhubuti’s daughter did not deny her father’s known history with the Nation of Islam. However, she stressed he has never been a member of Farrakhan’s controversial group.
Some of the staff have been connected to the Nation of Islam, as well. Elaine Mosely, the school’s president, was quoted in Farrakhan’s Roll Call magazine saying of Black History Month, “We have a responsibility to honor the original idea, our contributions to civilization.”
That same article pointed out that Black History Month neglects certain parts of black’s “historical” record, which it said is a “body of knowledge that was feared by Whites” and that “challenged White supremacy.”
Among the “history” left out, according to Farrakhan’s magazine, was that “Black man and woman are the Original people of the earth and that all races have their origin through the Black Man and Woman.”
The school’s chief operating officer, Anthony Taifa Daniels-Halisi, said in 2002 he grew up in the Organization Us movement led by black nationalist and former convict Maulana Karenga, who is now professor and chair of the Department of Black Studies at California State University.
During the 60s, Us became a target of the FBI and was put on a series of lists describing it as dangerous, revolutionary and committed to armed struggle in the Black Power Movement. Us, a rival to the Black Panther Party, developed a youth component with para-military aspects called the Simba Wachanga, which advocated and practiced community self-defense and service to the masses.
Arms in fist; ‘Liberation’ ceremony
The Shabazz school has taken on a militant tone.
“In starting schools for Black children, the Madhubutis continue to follow a mandate of Malcolm X, who warned against allowing the oppressors of Black people to teach Black children,” wrote Regina Jennings in the November 2002 Journal of Black Studies.
The Shabazz charter school was originally founded by Madhubuti in 1972, at the height of the black power movement, as the New Concept School.
Under state law, an existing private school cannot become a charter school. So the New Concept was morphed in 1998 into a preschool program with the charter school re-emerging as the Betty Shabazz International Academy.
Madhubuti’s New Concept school was openly revolutionary.
Every morning the students would recite a pledge that begins, “We are African people…Struggling for national liberation.”
“Our commitment is to self-determination, self-defense, and self-respect for our race,” the chant continues. “I pledge to my African nation, to the building of a better people and a better world.”
The Chicago Reader reported in 1997 that New Concept aimed to teach black children a narrative populated by African and African-American heroes and embellished with African rituals, fables, and values.
“Critics decry African-centered schools as exotic institutions turning out tomorrow’s angry revolutionaries,” reported the Chicago Reader.
The Shabazz charter school has similar rituals to its precursor, New Concept.
Chicago’s local ABC affiliate reported students start each day “with African drumming and self-affirming chants.”
The author of the “Quality in Education” blog recounted attending a June 2010 ceremony at which Shabazz students seemed to raise their fists in a display of black power that is strikingly reminiscent of New Concept’s display.
“Inside the cafeteria there was an inner single and outer circle was a combination of students and staff. There were drums that had an African culture to it. They were wearing African type clothing and the beat they were playing was recognizable as African culture as well. There was a series of clapping and singing that I could not recognize because it was in African language,” reported the blog’s author.
“During the ceremony they brought in an African flag and with one fist risen in the air they, in unison, said their pledge to their future. I did not get the pledge words exact, but it spoke of liberation and being risen (power).
“Also during the ceremony there actions that all the students did to stand at attention when it was called. They stood at attention by clutching your right hand in a fist and then crossing arms and tucking the fist under the arm and the other hand grasping your right arm. They even had a relaxed state, where their fist would be held by their hand in front.”
Laini Madhubuti claimed to WND that the Shabazz school pledge states that the students will do their best that day to learn and be helpful when they go home.
With additional research by Brenda J. Elliott.