business

Farrakhan's Three Year Plan

Down in tiny Dawson, Ga. (pop. 6,000), folks aren't used to outsiders strolling around with bodyguards in tow. But late last November, a dapper, citified man flanked by three bodyguards and a team of lawyers showed up in the town once known as "The Spanish Peanut Capital of the World." Hardly a social call, and this visitor didn't make much small talk. Instead, he plunked down $1.4 million for 1,600 acres of farmland and quickly whisked himself away.

Bubba, meet Louis Farrakhan. After years of sermonizing about the virtues of self-help, the controversial Nation of Islam chief is broadening his economic empowerment platform.

HEALTH CONSCIOUS. In late February, Minister Farrakhan announced that the Nation of Islam, already proud owners of some 2,000 acres of Georgia and Michigan farmland, is in the market for at least 8,000 more acres by yearend. The goal: to create a for-profit employment base that will provide produce, meat--no pork, of course--and dairy products for supermarkets in distressed inner-city neighborhoods. "We must stop depending on others to do for us what we could, what we should, and what we must do for ourselves," Farrakhan said at a press conference.

But Farrakhan isn't shedding his trademark bow tie for overalls. Agriculture is just a small component of his Chicago-based ministry's ambitious three-year business strategy (table). On Feb. 28, he officially opened Salaam, a glitzy $5 million restaurant on Chicago's South Side. And tapping the pockets of the Nation's estimated 100,000 members as well as private African-American investors, Farrakhan plans to open more restaurants, build a performing arts center, launch a trucking company to move the Nation's farm produce as well as transport goods for other companies, and expand the group's media company, which includes the organization's flagship biweekly newspaper, The Final Call. The organization is even marketing a $20 health video.

The Nation's goal is to help spur entrepreneurship and self-sufficiency within the black community. "We don't plan just to help Muslims," says James Muhammad, editor of The Final Call, a newspaper that boasts a circulation of 600,000 and aspires to 1 million. "We want to provide job opportunities for all of our people."

Farrakhan, widely criticized as a racist demagogue for his fiery pronouncements against whites and Jews, may be America's most strident proponent of bootstrap economics. A contrast to many black political and religious leaders who aim their criticisms at Washington policies, the former calypso singer was schooled by Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad who, among other things, drilled self-sufficiency into his followers.

FARMING 101. Closely held and secretive, the Nation of Islam won't discuss its finances or the details of its plans, except to say that Farrakhan plans to raise $10 million this year from Muslims, community groups, and sympathetic individuals. Call the Nation's headquarters and you'll likely hear a recorded message requesting contributions for the Nation's farm business, which "still needs to raise money for livestock and farming equipment." If necessary, the Nation says, it will turn to banks for funding. But the bulk of the money, as southern regional director Jamil Muhammad puts it, "will come from the nickels, dimes, and dollars of the humble members of the Nation of Islam."

Farrakhan and his brethren already are learning some sobering lessons about farming. The organization has been eager to plant 90 acres of collard greens, spinach, onions, and squash since acquiring the Georgia property last fall. "But they haven't been able to get into the field," explains Dawson's mayor, Robert Albritten. "Every week, it's been nothin' but rain." It could be a while before the seeds of entrepreneurship take root.

WEALTH OF A NATION

AGRICULTURE The Nation of Islam owns 2,000 acres of farmland in Georgia and Michigan and has plans to acquire 8,000 more.

MEDIA The Nation has a biweekly newspaper, The Final Call. It also markets books and tapes and plans to build a television production studio.

PERFORMING ARTS Later this year, the Nation plans to break ground on a 2,000-seat auditorium.

RESTAURANTS & RETAILING In addition to the $5 million Salaam restaurant in Chicago, it plans to launch outlets in four U.S. cities. The Nation also owns POWER, a health-supplies company.

TRUCKING The Nation owns three trucks and wants seven more.

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