A former high-ranking Nation of Islam leader known in New York City as the “Hip-Hop Minister” has announced he’s running for a state Senate seat. Conrad Tillard, who once ran the Nation of Islam’s famed Harlem Mosque No. 7 before leaving to become a Christian minister, tweeted that wants to represent New York’s 25th District as a state senator.
District 25 covers part of eastern and north-central Brooklyn, including the neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Fort Greene, Boerum Hill, Red Hook, Sunset Park, Gowanus, and Park Slope. The population of the district is 40.6 percent Black and 33.3 percent white.
“Vote Conrad Tillard for NYS Senate 25th District on August 23rd for Poven leadership 1984-2022. From the Hip-Hop Minister to State Senator. Hands that once scratched turntables will pick a Senator!” Rev. Tillard tweeted on May 23.
Here are five things to know.
Tillard is registered on the ballot as a Democrat and he will be up against incumbent Sate Sen. Jabari Brisport (Democratic Party), Renee Holmes (party not listed), and Barbara Taylor (Democrat). The election is on Aug. 23, 2022.
Brisport assumed office on Jan. 1, 2021. His current term ends on Jan. 1, 2023, and he is running for re-election. A life-long resident of Brooklyn, Brisport was born in Bed-Stuy and raised in Prospect Heights, the son of an undocumented immigrant and a Caribbean American.
Tillard joined the Nation of Islam in 1984 and rose rapidly in the organization. By 1989 he was appointed national youth minister and in 1991 he was installed as presiding minister of the organization’s legendary Mosque No. 7 in Harlem, where he served for seven years, BeliefNet reported.
Tillard’s popularity made the mosque more than profitable. From 1991 to 1997, he reportedly helped add $2 million into the NOI treasury, the Village Voice reported. “The mosque was a $300,000-to-$500,000-a-year operation,” the source said.
But his success raised suspicions and in the late ’90s, he and the NOI leadership began to clash. Amid allegations of insubordination and other charges, Tillard resigned from the NOI in 1990.
During his tenure at Mosque No. 7 in Harlem — Malcolm X’s former mosque — Tillard reached out to the area youth and local gangs to work as a bridge to peace. He became known as the “hip-hop minister,” the Village Voice reported.
After leaving NOI, he continued to minister to the youth and formed a nonprofit, A Movement for CHANGE (Conscious Hip-Hop Activism Necessary for Global Empowerment). The organization works to combat injustice and empower young people, meeting regularly with hip-hop record executives to urge them to avoid negative portrayals of African-American youth, according to Tillard’s bio on PDA Speakers.
After resigning from the NOI, Tillard enrolled at the Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and earned a master of divinity degree in systematic theology and Christian social ethics at the Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. He also attended Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Rev. Tillard is also a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, where he earned a master of theology in practical theology, with a concentration in congregational ministry.
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Today, he serves as the senior minister of Flatbush Tompkins Congregational Church, a 120-year congregation located in the historic Ditmas Park section of Flatbush, Brooklyn. He is formerly the senior minister of Nazarene Congregational Church, a United Church of Christ (UCC) congregation in the Bedford Stuyvesant community in Brooklyn — one of the oldest African -American congregations in New York City. Before that, he was the interim senior minister, at the Eliot Congregational Church in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood.
Rev. Tillard is a Baptist and Congregationalist (UCC) minister.
He is also and adjunct professor in the Black Studies Department at the City College of New York, where he teaches on Harlem, Hip Hop and the Black Power Movement.
Tillard started his career as a student activist, working as a national student coordinator in the historic 1984 presidential campaign of Rev. Jesse L. Jackson.
In 1998, he founded A Movement for CHANGE.
Photo: Former Nation of Islam Minister Conrad Tillard is running for state senator. WENN Rights Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo