HARLEM — Louis Farrakhan, the firebrand head of the Nation of Islam, told crowds in Harlem Tuesday that they held the power to stop the violence and shootings that have plagued the city this summer.
"You are looking for change to come but change will not come out of the sky," Farrakhan, 79, said while speaking to a crowd of 300 people at the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office building on 125th Street.
"You are the agent of change," said Farrakhan.
The controversial leader also spoke at Rucker Park earlier in the day as part of what his representatives said was a 100-plus city tour designed to address violence. Five people were shot in Rucker Park during a basketball tournament this summer.
Abdul Hafeez Muhammad, head of Muhammad Mosque No. 7 in Harlem, said Farrakhan had been to the Bronx playground where 4-year-old Lloyd Morgan was shot in the head and killed by a stray bullet in July.
Farrakhan also made visits to violence plagued housing projects in Jamaica, Queens, Newark, New Jersey and Brownsville.
Earlier this summer Farrakhan joined with members of the Nation of Islam on the streets of Chicago following the death of Heaven Sutton, a 7-year-old girl struck and killed by a stray bullet at her mother's candy stand.
"The minister is here to proclaim peace in the streets," said Muhammad.
"We have to stop the violence, stop the killings and change ourselves," he added.
Farrakhan, often criticized for remarks deemed anti-Semitic, preached a message of personal responsibility.
"We are holding ourselves back. You can't keep blaming the white man," said Farrakhan who has recently marched through the streets of Harlem.
"The question is what are we doing today to undo what he did," Farrakhan added before quoting from the Michael Jackson song "Man in the Mirror."
Farrakhan said it was good to be home in Harlem where he once served as head of Mosque No. 7 and touched on issues such as gentrification and racism but stuck mostly to comments about self-empowerment.
"It's ashamed that after 310 years of chattel slavery and 150 years of injustice that we are worse in our treatment of each other," Farrakhan said to loud applause and cheers.
Iesha Sekou of Street Corner Resources was one of many local anti-violence activists such as the Rev. Vernon Williams, president of the Harlem Clergy Community Leaders Coalition and Perfect Peace Ministries and Rev. Al Taylor of Man Up in Harlem who accompanied Farrakhan as he traveled around Harlem.
"People like Louis Farrakhan are able to garner national attention on this issue. Guns are still coming into our community," said Sekou.
She said the violence shows the need for the affected communities to have more resources to do the work required to prevent kids from joining gangs and crews.
"We don't want to wait until a kid is dead," said Sekou. "We need to work with kids who are not yet gang affiliated. We want to keep them from shooting."
Sheena Winn, 27, a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College who is studying criminal justice, waited 45 minutes to hear Farrakhan speak. She said his controversial reputation did not bother her.
"I am interested in anyone who speaks knowledge and truth," said the Bronx resident.
"Violence is in every neighborhood. That's why it's about people uniting. Once we unite as people, we'll be fine," said Winn.