The Problem with the Prince of Pan-Africanism’s School

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Umar Johnson, the self-proclaimed Prince of Pan-Africanism, is in yet another controversy. This time the issue is the filthy conditions that Umar apparently lives in. While recording a live video Umar accidentally turned the camera around so that viewers could see the mess that Umar lives in.

Umar’s living conditions has once again raised questions about Umar’s mental health. Others have speculated that Umar may have a drug problem. None of these rumors are new, but this recent video only adds more fuel to those rumors. The condition of Umar’s place has also raised questions about whether or not Umar is even fit to be running a school, which brings us back to the ongoing controversy regarding Umar’s attempts to open the Federick Douglass & Marcus Garvey Academy, which Umar has been working on for several years.

I think few people object to Umar’s plans, but the issue for many of us — myself included — has been the execution. Umar has been his own biggest obstacle. According to Umar, the controversy that he found himself in with a woman known as the “Conscious Stripper” cost him a million dollar donation. Had he been able to secure that donation he could have very well have already built a school by now — assuming that the school is not a scam, as many have suggested.

Umar has also regularly insulted the very people that have helped him or expressed a willingness to help him. In the video below Umar refers to the “lazy Negroes” who insisted that Umar use PayPal to raise the money rather than having them mail him the money. Why wouldn’t Umar utilize digital means to collect money? It’s quicker and easier than mailing money. So the issue is not that people are lazy — perhaps Umar himself was too lazy to simply set up an online account. It’s just logical to use the internet as a means to collect money, but rather than taking any advice or suggestions to help, Umar found it necessary to chastise the very people who were trying to help him as if they were the lazy ones.

In another video Umar criticized “trifling” black people who only raised $250,000 after six months. Rather than being grateful for raising that much in six months, Umar again resorted to criticizing other people. I will return to this video shortly, but I wanted to mention it here as an other example of Umar unnecessarily criticizing people over donations for his school. In the video Umar claims that he is trying to raise $2 million for the school. Umar could have obtained half of that, but Umar himself admitted that his own mistake cost him $1 million.

The particular issue that I have always had with Umar is not only how large his ego is, but the fact that he has not done anything to warrant that ego. Take for example the video below.

Umar says that Louis Farrakhan is not a leader because he has no agenda according to Umar. I am not a supporter of Farrakhan. In fact, Farrakhan has done and said many things that I have disagreed with. My personal opinion of Farrakhan is that he is not the revolutionary and visionary leader than Malcolm X was. This is a point that I elaborate more on in “The Strengths and Weaknesses of the Nation of Islam.” As critical as I am of the Nation of Islam, I also recognize that it is an organization that has done a lot of great work in the community, including establishing independent institutions such as schools.

Now, Umar said that Farrakhan has no agenda, yet Umar’s main agenda for the last several years has been building a school. Whereas the Nation of Islam has already established several schools — one of which is the Muhammad University of Islam — Umar can barely establish one school. After years of trying to raise money to build a school this is the best that Umar could come up with.

As you can plainly see from the video above, the location that Umar purchased will require significant renovations before it can become an operational school. The condition is so bad Umar had to conduct the tour in the dark because there was no electricity in the building. Umar has made it clear that he could afford the school, but cannot afford the labor to renovate the area, so he has requested black construction companies to renovate the location for free.

If Umar cannot afford to renovate the school, where is he planning to get the money from to upkeep the school and to pay for the salaries of the teachers? Remember in the very first video Umar was asking for resumes for his school, so it appears that Umar is asking for people to send resumes for a school that is not operational and Umar apparently does not currently have the funds to pay teachers’ salaries.

As I said, Umar is struggling to open a single school. The Nation of Islam has opened several throughout its existence as an organization, so Umar is in no position to criticize Farrakhan for not having an agenda when Farrakhan has accomplished more than Umar Johnson has done, and I am saying this as something that has been very critical of the Nation of Islam.

The truth is that building a school is not easy, but it is doable. There are several independent black schools around the counrty. Earlier this year the New York Times ran a story about the half-dozen Afrocentric schools in Brooklyn. There are many Afrocentric schools around the country. One report noted that in 1999 there were 400 African-centered schools around the country. Many have since closed due to poor academic performance and economic mismanagement. Afrocentric schools have also faced much pressure in recent years. My point is that opening and operating an African-centered school is very challenging, but you don’t have to be the Prince of Pan-Africanism to do so. Hundreds of other people have managed to accomplish this task.

I also want to return to the video I mentioned where Umar criticized the fact that he only recieved $250,000 in six months. That is actually enough for Umar to open a small independent school and then work his way to a larger project. In my community we have the Afrikan Kulcha School which manages to operate despite having nowhere near the support and money that Umar has. In other words, there are people who are doing much more than Umar has done even though they have less support and less resources than Umar has.

I have recently begun assisting with Project KKIS, which has been working to raise school supplies for school children in Haiti. We obviously have not raised anywhere near $250,000, but we are working with what we have. Project KKIS’s goal is to raise $1,500 and we have been struggling to reach that amount. I mention this specifically because Umar is supposed to be the “Prince of Pan-Africanism”, so where is his plan for Africans outside of the United States? The Nation of Islam built a Black Agenda Building in Trinidad. The Nation of Islam doesn’t even claim to be a Pan-African organization, but it has had more of a Pan-African impact that Umar has had so far. But you don’t have to be an organization with the resources of the Nation of Islam to have a Pan-African impact, as Project KKIS demonstrates.

My point is regardless of whether or not Umar has an actual mental health problems or substance abuse problems, I think the real issue is that Umar is someone who is actually in a great position to do a lot of good work for African people, but he is squandering it. And I say this as someone who defended Umar last year when he was going through the hearing over his credentials. I didn’t like that people in the community were spreading lies about Umar’s credentials, especially those who insisted that Umar was lying about his doctorate. But I also don’t like the fact that Umar’s ego constantly seems to hinder his own efforts. As I have pointed out, there are people that have done or are doing more than Umar has done with less support and less resources. As much as Umar boasts about being the most requested scholar in the world and the Prince of Pan-Africanism, the reality is that when it comes to building schools he’s nothing special. Hundreds of other people have managed to accomplish this task. The only reason why Umar has not done so yet is because of he has been getting in his own way.

Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.

Dwayne Wong (Omowale) is a Guyanese born Pan-Africanist, author, and law student.

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