Jewish Press of Pinellas County

Brother John: ‘Honored to participate’ in reading names of Holocaust victims

St. Petersburg City Councilman Brother John Muhammad at the Florida Holocaust Museum on Yom HaShoah.

St. Petersburg City Councilman Brother John Muhammad at the Florida Holocaust Museum on Yom HaShoah.

Last October members of the local Jewish community voiced concern that Brother John Muhammad was not suitable to sit on the St. Petersburg City Council because he is a follower of Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam who is known for many public anti-Jewish comments.

Muhammad maintained his faith should not disqualify him from being appointed to a vacant seat, while assuring council members that he was not antisemitic. Then once winning the council’s approval, he said that in spite of the acrimonious selection process, he would “absolutely” be willing to work with the Jewish community going forward.

So when the city council members, as has been a tradition for a number of years, were invited to read names of Jews who died in the Holocaust during a Yom HaShoah ceremony at the Florida Holocaust Museum on April 18, Muhammad did so.

It was a fact Stuart Berger, director of the local Jewish Community Relations Council, pointed out to the Jewish Press. Berger, who was among those cautioning the council about Muhammad’s fitness for office, also noted in all capital letters that when the City Council voted to approve a resolution remembering Holocaust victims, it was unanimous. Muhammad cast his vote without comment, but when the Jewish Press asked about his thoughts about reading the names and his vote, he gave the following response:

“The [reading of the names] experience was profound, and it reinforced the importance of remembering and honoring those who suffered and lost their lives during that dark period of history.

“Honestly, as I reflected on the Holocaust, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to the suffering of Black people in America. Just like the victims of the Holocaust, Black people in America have experienced centuries of systemic oppression and violence that have left deep scars on our society. As a recently appointed policymaker, I think it’s important to remember, the Third Reich found fuel for its race-based initiatives in American (Jim Crow) laws and they served as the centerpiece of the anti-Jewish legislation of the Nazi regime (according to James Q. Whitman).

“Reading the names of the victims was a solemn and deeply moving experience. It was a reminder of the unimaginable suffering that so many people endured and was a powerful reminder of the importance of never forgetting the atrocities that were committed. Seeing the names and the AGES of the victims caused me to reflect on a candlelight vigil we did in the spring to 2012 in the early days of our Stop The Violence Initiative wherein we read the names of the victims of gun violence in our city and how much it meant to their families and loved ones to have them acknowledged; and I was honored to participate.

“I believe approving the proclamation was also an important step towards honoring the victims and ensuring that their memory lives on, which is why I supported it.

“In this, I also see an example of how we can acknowledge the horrors of the past and pay tribute to the victims while working towards building a better future for all.

“It is my hope that the proclamation and ceremony along with a consideration of the links between our two histories will provide a greater understanding of the need for compassion and empathy towards ALL who have experienced oppression and trauma; and I’m honored to be in a position to contribute to that effort, by God’s Grace.”

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