Re-Examining Dr. Antwi Akom’s Scholarship On Elijah Muhammad’s Winning Formula For Black Achievement

Re-Examining Dr. Antwi Akom’s Scholarship On Elijah Muhammad’s Winning Formula For Black Achievement


Elijah Muhammad at his home in Chicago, Feb. 12, 1972. (AP Photo/Edward Kitch)

Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad was committed to nation-building for the Black community until his death in 1975. His economic blueprint and execution of the plans were, for a period, very successful.

The NOI counted among its many assets a bank, an international fish business, farms, bakery stores, restaurants, and many other retail establishments. Each business was designed not only to increase the wealth of the individual owners but to recirculate the dollar within the Black community, and thus forge economic empowerment for the community. These businesses were not only around the NOI’s headquarters in Chicago but nationwide.

In 2005 Dr. Antwi Akom examined Muhammad’s economic plan in a paper entitled “Reexamining Resistance as Oppositional Behavior: The Nation of Islam and the Creation of a Black Achievement Ideology.” The scholarly was published by the University of California–Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania.

Akom is the director of the Social Innovation and Urban Opportunity Lab—a joint research lab between The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and San Francisco State University (SFSU). His research explores the intersection of science, technology, spatial epidemiology, community development, health communications, medical sociology, ethnic studies, African American studies, culturally responsive human centered design, Big Data, and public health, according to SFSU.

Dr. Akom is also a faculty affiliate with UCSF’s Center for Vulnerable Populations at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center where he focuses on researching, developing, and deploying new health information communication technologies for communities often excluded from digital and physical public spheres.

Prior to joining UCSF/CVP, Dr. Akom co-founded and launched a series of technology projects in the San Francisco Bay area, including, Streetwyze—a mobile, mapping, and SMS platform that enables real-time community-generated data for health care providers.

His “Reexamining Resistance as Oppositional Behavior” challenges the oppositional-culture explanation by demonstrating that through the religious tenets and practices of the Nation of Islam, “young female members develop a Black achievement ideology, resulting in the adoption of the kind of studious orientation to school that is usually demonstrated by voluntary immigrant groups,” the paper stated.

According to Akom, the case of the Nation of Islam, “I did not find patterns of oppositional behavior in the way this construct has been traditionally documented and defined. Although an oppositional-culture frame of reference was evident among the young women whom I studied and observed…Instead, I observed an involuntary-minority culture of mobility where by involuntary-minority students in the NOI resisted schooling and societal practices that they viewed as being at odds with their religious tenets and practices, yet drew on the moral, spiritual, and material resources facilitated by their tightly knit community to achieve social mobility and academic success.”

As far as the Nation’s Ideology of achievement, Akom wrote, “The NOI’s Black achievement ideology is not a whole culture but, rather, a set of cultural elements that are relevant to the problems of educational and economic mobility in the face of instrumental discrimination (e.g., in employment and wages), relational discrimination (e.g., social and residential segregation), and symbolic discrimination (e.g., denigration of the minority culture and language).”

He continued, “Within the NOI, the Black achievement ideology often coexists with an oppositional social identity. Members of the NOI are often familiar with each ideology, and the relative influence of both is dependent on the social context, as well as individual factors, such as personality or school or work trajectories. Thus, even though oppositional social identity may seem antithetical to the NOI’s Back achievement ideology, historically the two emerged in tandem, as dual responses to conditions of racism and group discrimination.”

He concluded, “In short, rigid morals, self-determination, nontraditional Islam, and Black nationalism are the key elements that constitute what I refer to as the NOI’s Black achievement ideology. The Black achievement ideology is a theory about the world—how and why it was created and how human beings relate to and should act in the world…Since the Black achievement ideology in this context is essentially a religious construct, it provides adherents with a frame of reference that governs their interpretation and experiences in the world.”

Elijah Muhammad at his home in Chicago, Feb. 12, 1972. (AP Photo/Edward Kitch)