Minister Louis Farrakhan, the often controversial head of the Chicago-based Nation of Islam (NOI), came to the West Side on Sun., May 24 to celebrate Greater St. John Bible Church’s 30th Anniversary. 

Rev. Ira Acree, the pastor of the prominent Austin church, located at 1256 N. Waller Ave., said his decision to invite the minister drew criticism from some community members, hinting that a portion of that criticism may have come from “among our church ranks.” 

“I felt that he would add so much to this day just by showing up,” said Acree. “It would be some encouragement for a church like ours,” he said, before quipping that he “was still a Christian minister.” 

“Somebody said, ‘Well, why are you inviting him, he’s not a Christian minister,'” Acree said. “Well, number one, because he makes sense. I can think of a hundred Christian ministers that don’t make sense.” 

Farrakhan, 82, spoke for about an hour and touched upon themes that he and the NOI have highlighted since the organization’s founding in 1930.

“Do you know who you are? Do you know that you are people of God? Do you know that you are the direct descendant of the originator of the heavens and the earth? Do you know that all races came from us? Do you know that? Because if you knew the truth, you would be free of the sickness that black is bad and white is good,” preached the still-fiery 82-year-old religious leader to a standing-room only sanctuary, with some in attendance watching through video feed in the church’s basement.

“I’m very rejuvenated,” said Carlas Bridges, 38, who came to the West Side church from Cincinnati, Ohio to hear Farrakhan. 

“I’ve heard him plenty of times at Mosque Maryam,” said Bridges. “I’ve been following him since the late eighties. He was always there. Ever since ‘Fight the Power’ with Public Enemy. He’s from that Malcolm X [generation].”

Jalil Muhammad, 51, has been a Muslim for 29 years (“seven months, 16 days, what time is it?”). He came from the south suburbs to hear the message. 

“We see what’s going on all over the world and really the problem can be quickly eradicated if we united with one another in love and follow the mandate of Christ — love ye one another,” Muhammad said. “That’s easy, but it’s hard for people who have never loved each other. It’s incumbent upon us to learn to love one another.”

“I can scratch this off my bucket list,” said John Earl Stevens III, 50, a construction worker from Las Vegas who was in town visiting for a convention of the Coalition of Black Trade Unions. “I was on a website and saw he was going to be here so I came over. This is the first time I’ve been in the same room with him.”

Stevens said that he’s been following the minister’s sermons for a long time because of their emphasis on economic determinism.

“We need our own land, so we can support ourselves. That’s what I like about him.”