[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
(415) 863-9977
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