The Yahya K. Muhammad College Scholarship
Yahya Karim Muhammad Business & Community Leadership Award…
“The world is not the way you want to see it…and that’s the beginning of knowing how to change it for the better.” – Hajji Yahya Karim Muhammad (R)
The Yahya K. Muhammad Business & Community Leadership College Scholarship is established in honor of the late Al Hajj Yahya Karim Muhammad (R), who was a business and civic leader, cleric, husband, father of seven, and an American Muslim Pioneer. The Scholarship is awarded annually to a graduating college bound high school senior, current undergraduate or graduate student who shows an entrepreneurial spirit or business leadership acumen, and exemplifies a strong commitment to community service and educational excellence especially, but not limited to business disciplines including: accounting, advertising, economics, entrepreneurship, finance, healthcare and hospitality management, human resources, insurance, marketing, management, public relations, statistics, supply chain management, taxation, and international business.
The great-great grandson of slaves named Levi Spearman (b. 1822) and Hannah (b. 1825), Yahya Karim Muhammad was born December 8, 1932, on a Thursday morning at 6 a.m. in a small southern town called Silverstreet – Newberry in Newberry County, South Carolina. His given Christian name was John after the Prophet mentioned in both the Bible and Qur’an. He was the first of seven children born to Moses and Mary. Like many African Americans then, Yahya’s family worked the land picking cotton, growing crops and tending animals. He had been born at the height of the great depression with its 1300 bank failures and 13.7 million unemployed by 1932. For African Americans, the circumstances were more dire, for this was also the era of Jim Crow or an American form of apartheid that meted out another 100 years of additional physical, mental, and emotional cruelty upon African Americans after President Abraham Lincoln’s landmark legacy with the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and 13th Amendment to the Constitution that legally freed all blacks from chattel slavery.
Yahya was a pensive youth always looking for answers to why his people suffered under the burdens of racism and poverty. Most of his days were spent going to school and farming.
He was the first in his immediate family to leave Newberry for greener pastures north when he joined his maternal uncles and aunts who had already settled in New Jersey and Washington, D.C. In 1953 he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Following initial processing Camp Kilmer, New Jersey and basic and advanced training at Camp Gordon in Augusta, Georgia, he served as a signal corpsman in Germany before being honorably discharged.
The opportunity to travel abroad and see other cultures was a great education for him, but it was not without a price. He was deeply affected by an incident that would eventually open his heart to Al-Islam. Before departing for Germany and enroute via Augusta, he endured a rude awakening when he along with his fellow black soldiers, were told to go the back door to eat at a restaurant. Yahya was in uniform and traveling with black and white troops through the southern states. It was not like he hadn’t seen racism; but he had mistakenly thought the uniform might at least be respected. Instead, the uniform was invisible along with his humanity to those whose hearts were closed to man’s equality before G-d. He refused to eat, continuing to travel on to more northern areas until a meal did not come at the expense of his dignity. He was joined in his fast by fellow soldiers black and white.
Once Yahya was discharged, he began working on the railroad and in factories. He dabbled in freemasonry, but was never fully immersed in its rituals and secrecy; it did not hold the answer for him. Like his mother, who also became Muslim, Yahya would be an adult before hearing about a new nationalist and religious movement called the Nation of Islam. His brother Omar told him about a message from a man named Elijah Muhammad. Elijah’s message of race pride, do for self, and moral integrity resonated with Yahya, and he joined the Nation of Islam in 1961. His conversion first through the religious movement under the late Honorable Elijah Muhammad and then his evolution in 1975 to true Islam under the leadership of Imam Wallace D. Mohammed, were the most profound influences of his life. While Yahya received his formal education in Carolina’s public schools, he speaks of his real education coming through his religious conversion, or as some would say reversion.
Raised in the Christian tradition, he understood how important faith was as demonstrated in the Christ Consciousness. Later, he learned that the Brotherhood of Messengers included the Noble Prophet Christ, Son of Mary (peace be upon him) and G-d’s Final Prophet to humanity, Prophet Muhammad Ibn Abdullah (peace be upon him). He rededicated his life and served as a sterling example of faith and commitment to his Lord, his community and family.
He sacrificed as other Nation of Islam pioneers did in supporting the Community’s religious, education, and business initiatives. As a father of seven and a businessman working for the dignity of family-owned enterprise, he understood the meaning of sacrifice, becoming a top Muhammad Speaks salesman, rising to the rank of captain and finally minister in the Nation. He helped build the first mosque in Trenton, New Jersey. Along with his first wife Taheerah, then Deloris, he opened his home for religious meetings even before services in a mosque were possible. He went on to organize mosques in the cities of Camden, Vineland, Burlington, and Beverly New Jersey.
Yahya was a consummate business leader, partly influenced by his grandfather’s canning and vending ventures that he saw as a boy, and later by the Muslims’ urgent call for business development. To this day, the legacy of the Unity Variety Shop in Trenton abounds, for Yahya helped inspire a new generation of youth to later become entrepreneurs. Along with his brother Omar, he led a profitable family enterprise consisting of a clothing store, fish market, restaurant, grocery shop, and mobile vending that gave his family a comfortable middle class lifestyle and the ability to send his last six children to the Nation’s private school system, then called Muhammad University, and provide employment opportunities for his local Muslim community and beyond. Although he wanted to someday pursue a degree himself, he advocated for higher education and encouraged his children, such that today there are undergraduate and graduate degrees among the Muhammad children.
The year 1975 was a period of great transition for Yahya and his family as the Nation of Islam lost its leader. Without faltering, he like the majority of Muslims then, became a follower of the late Imam W. D. Mohammed. Yahya began his transition to true Islam, renouncing the earlier religious dogma and teaching of racial superiority, and he worked even harder for the new Community’s efforts, serving as CRAID (Committee to Remove Racial Images of Divine) Chairman and a NJ Area Coordinator for AMMCOP, a cooperative purchasing economic dignity program. He also served as a counselor helping disadvantaged young adults succeed.
In 1981, Yahya fulfilled a desire to leave the North and return home to Newberry where he opened a Taxi Service and began a commercial trucking career. The family joined Masjid As-Salaam in Columbia, South Carolina. Twelve years later, he settled further south along Florida’s First Coast to his final home in Jacksonville. Honored as a Living Legend by the Jacksonville Masjid of Al-Islam, Yahya is also a recipient of the Southern Section Pioneers, Workers and Leadership Award for outstanding service to the believers. In December 2006, he was blessed to take the Journey of a Lifetime to the sacred precincts of Mecca for the Hajj.
In his final years, Yahya enjoyed retirement and traveling occasionally, while remaining passionate about his community and its future. He was one of the earliest supporters of the Community Wide Shuraa Conference, traveling to the midwest to attend CWSC’s First National Townhall. On his 80th birthday, believers traveled from around the country to honor his contribution as he received honors and proclamations from Honorable Barack Obama, U.S. Congressional leaders, Florida’s Governor and Senators, Mayors from the cities of Trenton and Camden New Jersey; Newberry and Columbia, South Carolina; and Jacksonville, Florida and from Islamic Institutions in New Jersey, South Carolina, Florida and Georgia.
Hajji Yahya Karim Muhammad, the son, brother, husband, father, father-in-law, grandfather, great- and great-great grandfather, nephew and cousin, friend, leader and believer, passed away peacefully the evening of February 11, 2021, on or about 4:30 p.m. at home with his family. He was 88 years old. He was given military honors and interred at Section 13 Site 922 at Jacksonville National Cemetery.
The Yahya K. Muhammad Business & Community Leadership College Scholarship seeks to inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders committed to serving their communities at the highest level of excellence…to help remake the world.
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