Wake up all the builders,
Time to build a new land;
I know we can do it
If we all lend a hand. …
In the late ’70s, Kenny Gamble stumbled upon his old landlord, Sam Sobel, who was ready to sell him his old house for a thousand dollars. Gamble ended up buying it and by the time he was finished he owned 130 vacant lots and empty houses. Gamble the music producer, became Gamble the social engineer. In the years to come, he poured money and time into his old neighborhood — funding community initiatives, anti-drug programs, and politicians he felt could help — but he was continually frustrated as he left his home in Gladwyne and drove through South Philly: still devastated. Still rife with dealers and prostitutes.
On day while at his suburban mansion, he complained to his wife Faatimah, that Philadelphia could be so much more than it is. He said, “Somebody ought to do something,” to which his wife replied “You’re somebody.” Gamble sold his mansion and moved back into a rowhouse in his childhood neighborhood, on South 15th Street. Back to the gangbangers, the drug dealers, prostitutes, and criminals.
First, he started Universal Community Homes, which grew into a nonprofit entity called the Universal Companies, that included the housing development company (which has rebuilt or rehabilitated about a thousand houses), a charter school that serve 700 hundred students, an investment fund, and social services ranging from credit building to computer classes. Before long Universal's influence and holdings comprised the entire south-central part of the city, running from 5th Street out to 22nd, and from South Street down to Tasker.
Gamble envisions South Philly as an entertainment corridor with an emphasis on the city’s musical heritage, similar to Beale Street in Memphis. In a major step toward that goal, Gamble persuaded the Rhythm & Blues Foundation to move from New York to Philadelphia, and next he plans to develop a $50 million National Center for Rhythm and Blues on the empty plot at Broad and Washington. He envisions a massive complex including a concert hall, a music academy and a Hall of Fame.
However, Gamble's efforts has it's local critics or adversaries. While some may voice genuine concerns, others sound like mouthpieces for those folks whose economic interest lie in exploiting Afrikan American communities. There are those who fear Gamble community will be a segregated black one. South Philly is already a predominantly black community and Gamble has made it clear he envisions it as such in the future.
When Gamble was interview by Matthew Teague, and asked about some residents’ concern about racial segregation or supremacy, he responded by saying. “It’s like cats. They’re all cats. But you don’t see the lion with the tiger. You don’t see the tiger with the panther.” He continued: “It pretty much boils down to mating. Every now and then you’ll see a tiger and maybe a lion copulate, and you’ll get a tiger-lion, or something strange.”
Teague followed up with: That sounds a lot like segregation, to which Gamble replied: It’s not, he said; it’s consolidation. Consolidation of jobs, money and influence. In his neighborhood, he argues, black people make up the vast majority of the population, but own only a small percentage of the businesses. He said he admires other self-sustaining and culturally insular neighborhoods: “There’s nothing wrong with the Chinese having Chinatown,” he said. “You don’t have people selling goods and services in the Irish community from some other community,” he said. “In the Russian community, you don’t have people from other communities. In the Puerto Rican community, the Puerto Ricans have their own economy, they have their own stores.”
There are other critics that are concerned that Gamble, who converted to Islam in the 1970s, is building an Islamic community. Is there anything wrong with this if it were the case?
Apparently Gamble's faith is an issue, especially in the Islamophobia of post-9/11 America. And all types of unfounded allegations, exaggerations, and propaganda has been directed at Gamble, whose Islamic name is Luqman Abdul Haqq. These allegations are partly because he maintains friendly ties with the Nation of Islam. (In fact, Gamble sent Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan his prayers and blessings for a speedy recovery before he went into surgery.) He is also affiliated with other organizations that the Zionists have attacked as anti-Semitic, hence he is guilty by association. Some of his critics have even implied that he is a radical Islamist. And there are a number of internet site that attempt to validate this. Of course this is pure nonsense. From the interviews I have heard of Gamble, he is approaching his practice of Islam as a religion of universal brotherhood and peace. He has demonstrated no "radical" tendency, unless building up a community where black people already reside, is radical?
It seems to me that Gamble is doing what other Afrikan American millionaires should be doing: giving back by putting their money where their mouth is and building communities, creating jobs, developing housing, and providing quality education through public-private sector ventures. If anything, his actions should serve as guidelines for our leaders and religious organizations and groups to emulate.
And when Gamble tells his various critics that “The welfare of the community overrides any individual,” it sounds like communalism to me. Power to that brother.
P.S. To the Universal Company and Luqman Abdul Haqq, I say, Ungawa! Now we need the traditionalist communities to follow suit.