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I WAS JUST THINKING: Public urged to donate to new SMU Human Rights Scholarship honoring Thomas Muhammad

By Norma Adams-Wade

Sometime before he joined the ancestors in August this year, the late Thomas Muhammad had said he expected his legacy to be a film he conceived and co-produced about the life of Malcolm X, his personal warrior also known as el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz.

Thomas Ali Muhammad
Thomas Muhammad

The 2017 film – Malcolm X: An Overwhelming influence on the Black Power Movement — is, indeed, a permanent feather in his cap. But Muhammad’s friends and admirers have decided to take his legacy a step further.

At a tribute Saturday, October 29, commemorating his brimming life of servant, his friends and admirers announced the Thomas Muhammad Human Rights Scholarship that has been launched at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

“I wish we could name a building or school after Thomas,” said Imam Emeritus Khalid Shaheed, who retired in 2020 after nearly 20 years of service at Masjid AlIslam south of Downtown.

The Imam was among more than a dozen friends, relatives and admirers who spoke at the tribute at The Black Academy of Arts and Letters (TBAAL) in downtown Dallas.

But while the public is thinking of other ways to continue Muhammad’s legacy, Shaheed and other leaders are urging the public to support the new scholarship that will help finance the education of SMU students majoring in human rights – a cause into which Muhammad poured his heart and passion. Creators of the scholarship
say it will help educate students about all aspects of human rights so that they may continue the work Muhammad deeply treasured.

Among others who helped organize the commemorative program for Muhammad and who urged the public to help contribute to the scholarship were former Dallas city council member and deputy mayor pro-tem Diane Ragsdale, TBAAL founder and president Curtis King, and broadcast and print media veteran Bob Ray Sanders.

Organizers say $100,000 is needed to endow the scholarship that will be awarded to selected students whose families earn $50,000 or less. All donated funds go to SMU to maintain the scholarship. To learn more and contribute to the scholarship, email Imam Emeritus Khalid Shaheed at 469-766-2208 or email rizak1@mmsn.com

Norma Adams-Wade, is a proud Dallas native, University of Texas at Austin journalism graduate and retired Dallas Morning News senior staff writer. She is a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists and was its first southwest regional director. She became The News’ first Black full-time reporter in 1974. norma_adams_wade@yahoo.com

I was just thinking…, for someone to have the distinction of a scholarship named in their honor, it’s logical that that person would have lived an exceptional life. Comments speakers made about Muhammad bear that out:

  • Bob Ray Sanders: “This community is indebted to Thomas. He understood power. He wasn’t afraid of people in power. He could not be bamboozled. Up until the day he died, he was fighting.”
  • Dr. Frederick Haynes III: Quoting rapper Drake’s lyrics, Haynes said of Muhammad: “Thomas was always down for the cause, never down for the count.”
  • Dr. Teresa Jackson: She said Muhammad’s transition left a void, but others must carry on for him. “ A void leaves an empty space. But let’s not focus on the emptiness left behind. Let’s fill it.”
  • Akwete Tyehimba: “Thomas was always aspiring to be impactful…He heart was always in the right place.”
  • Jorge Baldor: “I miss my friend Thomas. He left the world a little better than he found it.”
  • Kofi Taharka with National Black United Front-Houston Chapter: Said he met Muhammad in Jasper. Texas while protesting the heinous 1998 dragging murder of James Byrd Jr. “When I describe Brother Thomas, I must use the word ‘Class’.”
  • Dominique Alexander: Said once when he was discouraged, he considered shutting down Next Generation Action Network that he founded. But Muhammad — his mentor who called him ‘Young Blood’ — encouraged him. “He said, ‘No. You can’t do that.’ I loved and admired Thomas.”
  • Jackie Mixon: “Thomas always said, ‘Somebody’s got to stand. He was our warrior for justice.”
  • Vincent Hall: “We were pen pals who wrote newspaper articles about issues. Thomas about changing policies (to fix problems.) That’s what he did probably better than anybody else.”
  • John Fullinwider: “Thomas was an activist for all seasons. He was my friend and counsel.”
  • A. Peter Bailey: “This brother made a major contribution… His film about Malcolm X is a must-see for everybody.”
  • Rev. Zan Wesley Holmes: “He was a great friend who called me Pastor…I’m grateful that part of his film was recorded at St. Luke (Community United Methodist Church), showing our image of Malcolm X in one of our stained-glass windows.”
  • Cheryl Smith: “He loved showing appreciation for his friends…I was selected as one (that he honored).”
  • Norma Adams-Wade: “For us in media, Thomas was our town crier as well as our Griot.”
  • Diane Ragsdale: “One of Thomas’ primary goals was to create better relationships between Muslims and the African-American community. He sought to prevent people viewing Muslims as terrorists.”
  • Curtis King: Not everyone knew that “Thomas was a lover of the arts…He is one of persons responsible for us being (in this building) on this corner.” Thomas Muhammad did, indeed, leave the world a better place than he found it.
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