TAMPA — Leaders of the Nation of Islam are in Tampa to mark the 15th anniversary of the Million Man March.
Minister Louis Farrakhan, organizer of that march, is scheduled to speak at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Tampa Convention Center's east hall, which holds up to 8,000 people.
Farrakhan, 77, known as a fiery orator, has been a polarizing leader, alienating many with statements considered racist toward whites and Jews.
His assistant, Minister Ishmael Muhammad, spoke about Farrakhan's message Thursday from the grounds of the Westchase Golf Club during a private fundraiser there.
Muhammad said Farrakhan has "never ever said anything to offend other faiths, and particularly the Jewish religion."
Farrakhan's message offers not only solutions but a scripture-based perspective on what's happening in today's society, Muhammad said. He encourages the black community to accept responsibility for bringing about the change it desires.
Nation of Islam leaders have had ties with Scientology recently, but Muhammad would not say if they were meeting with Scientologists in this area.
"We are studying the Dianetics as a technology that can help members of our community," he said.
After the Million Man March in 1995, Farrakhan established Oct. 16 as a holy day of atonement and chose Tampa for this year's gathering. Past events have been held in Chicago, Atlanta and, last year, Memphis.
Farrakhan led the Million Man March on Washington, D.C., to elevate the image of black men.
On that Monday 15 years ago, Louis Muhammad of Brandon remembers arriving at 4:30 a.m. at the National Mall with a group of friends. In the dark, men began to pray. First a Muslim led, then a Christian, then a Jew, he said.
"There was just this buzz," said Louis Muhammad, 52. "When the sun came up, we were all amazed. There was a sea of men as far as the eyes could see."
After the march, men went home and adopted children, joined churches and registered to vote, he said. But there is still work to be done. He cites low black male graduation rates and a high percentage of black men in prison.
He remembers the pledges Farrakhan led the men to make at the march, including to respect women. At the end of the day, he said they were saying to each other: Long live the spirt of the Million Man March.
"That spirit is still living and it's coming to Tampa this weekend," Louis Muhammad said.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3431.