[Ppnews] Dessie Woods - Rashida Mustafa Muhammad passes
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sun Nov 19 12:46:55 EST 2006
Muhammad, 61, activist, dies of cancer
Prominent community figure, activist was known
for being caring, involved, happy
By Cecily Burt, STAFF WRITER
Inside Bay Area
Article Last Updated:11/16/2006 06:59:02 AM PST
OAKLAND By all accounts, Rashida Mustafa
Muhammad was the kind of warm, caring person who
would share her last piece of bread. If you were
sick, she would rummage around in her medicine
chest to dispense whatever remedies she had. She
was always smiling and partial to beautiful African dresses.
What many people may or may not have known is
that back in 1976 Muhammad then Dessie X. Woods
was sentenced to 22 years in prison for killing
a white man who allegedly tried to rape her and a
friend in Georgia. People around the world took
up her cause, and she was eventually freed after
serving five years. Alice Walker immortalized
Muhammad's story in her collection of essays, "Living by the Word."
Muhammad emerged a fighter and never stopped,
tirelessly working to rid her West Oakland
neighborhood of drugs, crime and blight, all the
while reaching out to the homeless and less
fortunate, as many reached out to her.
But Muhammad's kindness and fierce determination
were no match for advanced lung cancer. After
months of feeling ill, she was finally diagnosed
with the disease in mid-October and died Nov. 4
without ever leaving Summit Medical Center. She was 61.
"She was a real rock-solid person, and by that I
mean she was loyal, committed, hard working and
big-hearted," said Oakland City Councilmember
Nancy Nadel, who knew Muhammad for years.
"I remember one day she showed up in my office
with a beautiful, large, color drawing her
daughter had done, just to thank me for the work
I had done," Nadel recalled. "It was incredibly
detailed, in a gold frame, and very large."
Nadel remembered going to Muhammad's home and
mentioning that she wasn't feeling well. Muhammad
sent her off with medicine and frozen catfish.
"She was constantly giving," Nadel said. "And she
was always at every (community) meeting,
volunteering to do things in the community."
Muhammad served as chair of the Prescott
Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council for eight
years, and she and her family ran a day care
center from her home on Chester Street.
"We cleaned up the street over here," said her
husband, Shomari Mustafa. "The drug dealers
didn't like it but they respected her too because
she helped a lot of people. She helped them get
jobs, get rehab to get off drugs, and she would
tell them about ... programs to get their records
expunged to help them out, not just lock them up."
Mustafa met Muhammad at Your Black Muslim Bakery
on San Pablo Avenue when she was on a speaking
tour shortly after her release from prison in
1981. She ended up marrying his best friend, and
he was best man. When his friend was murdered in
1982, they became close and wed later that year.
They raised seven children together, six from his
first marriage and her granddaughter who was an
infant when her son was killed. May 16 would have
been the couple's 25th wedding anniversary.
"She was the most remarkable woman I ever met,"
Mustafa said. "I was in love with her before I
met her, from stories about her on the radio.
When I met her, I thought, 'That little bitty
woman is the one they talked about?' She was 100
pounds soaking wet. But she didn't need no
bullhorn to be heard. I'll never meet anyone like her again."
Mustafa said his wife had started a book about
her life and ordeal in Georgia called "Dessie X.
Woods, My Own Story," but it wasn't quite finished.
"She didn't know how to end it, but we can end it now," he said.
Muhammad is also survived by her mother,
Christine Linsey of Michigan; her sister Minnie
L. Smith of Garden City, Ga.; seven children:
Jamila Riley of Atlanta, Nakishia Cosby, Kareem
A. Mustafa, Sharif Mustafa, Haneefah Mustafa,
Rashida Mustafa II, and Shomari Mustafa III, all
of Oakland; and several stepsisters and stepbrothers.
Services will be held 11 a.m. Friday at Beth Eden
Baptist Church, 1183 10th St., followed by a
potluck reception at 3 p.m., West Oakland Senior
Center, 18th and Adeline streets. A quiet hour
will be observed today from 6 to 8 p.m., Baker
Williams Mortuary Chapel at 8th and Filbert streets.
The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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