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By: Evette Champion
On September 23rd, noted professor and Black Panther Party leader, Ahmad A. Rahman, passed away at 64 years old. Rahman taught African-American and African studies at the Univedrsity of Michigan-Dearborn, along with being well versed on black nationalist activities. He wrote for the Detroit chapter of the Black Panther Party, as well about leaders in Africa—one of them being Kwame Nkrumah who was the first leader of Ghana after British colonialism. Other than educational pursuits, he dedicated his time to helping to creating a program called “Cyberdad,” which was geared toward children in the metro Detroit area without a father figure in their lives.
“I am motivated by a drive to make a difference for those persons I see in need,” reads a biography of Rahman on the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History located in Detroit. “Much of the energy of us academics goes toward achieving status within academia. Many of the best minds that could challenge and solve problems in the inner city are exclusively occupied writing academic books and articles that have no impact on the most important issues facing Black America. I have sought to avoid this ivory tower phenomenon.”
Born in Chicago in 1951, Rahman would go on to join the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party, which was led by Fred Hampton during the time when Black Nationalism was gaining momentum in urban areas. Rahman admired men like Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X, and interpreted their message to be an alternative to Martin Luther King Jr. He was one of numerous African Americans around the country who converted to Islam during the black nationalist movements.
When he was 18, he and three other members of the Black Panthers “staged a vigilante raid on a Detroit student commune they thought was a heroin den,” the Detroit Free Press reported in 1993. “One of Rahman’s accomplices shot and killed Franklin Abramson, a 23-year-old occupant.”
Rahman was convicted of felony murder and was sentenced to live without parole, whereas the three accomplices received much lesser charges. As a result, he spent 23 years in prison and was finally released at the age of 41, after a former columnist for the Detroit Free Press, James Ricci, campaigned for his release. The premise was that the Michigan Supreme Court invalidated the law that Rahman had been sentenced under. It worked, because in 1992, a day before Thanksgiving, Governor Engler ordered Rahman’s release.
In his biography, Rahman was the first person in prison to be admitted and graduate from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. There, he earned master and doctorate degrees. He would later become a professor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn in 2004.
“I have always worked to balance academic achievement with what I regard as the more important goals for Detroit of achieving real solutions,” Rahman said in his biography. “At one time during my youth I called myself a revolutionary. Now I see myself as more of a solutionary.”
Our prayers to his family and friends for the loss of a man who not only taught about being exceptional, but lived an exceptional life.