Heaven Is Hell
All is not well in heaven. In Kansas City, Kansas, the United Nation of Islam has lost the daughter of Allah, the Mother of Civilization. Moreen Jenkins was to lead the faithful to heaven and teach them the divine principles of mathematical thinking and the secret language of Allah. Under Allah’s protection, it is said, the 144,000 chosen ones will weather the Final Destruction of 2010 — a war against Satan that will rid the world of the “negative” and its embodiment: the white race. The survivors will inherit all of creation, traverse the universe in spaceships and never die. Until then, the members of the United Nation of Islam are making their preparations and striving to attract members. But Moreen’s abrupt departure has shaken the foundations of the Quindaro-area colony that was supposed to be heaven on Earth.
When Moreen Jenkins was eleven years old, her father told her he was God.
She believed him, of course; her teachers at Chicago’s University of Islam, run by the Nation of Islam, had already taught her that Allah is a man. And Royall Jenkins had an aura of godliness about him whenever he returned home between long-distance trucking jobs. He wore a starched white shirt, his hair was neatly trimmed and he often spoke to his children about righteousness. But after he declared that he was God, things were never quite the same in the Jenkins household.
The revelation caused a rift between Royall Jenkins and his wife, says Moreen, now 39. Her parents divorced not long afterward; the children rarely saw their father after that. Moreen sometimes looked for him when she heard he was passing through town on his trucking route, but he would tell her it wasn’t time for them to be together. Today she is in hiding from him and claims to be afraid for her life.
Royall’s inauspicious beginnings offered no sign that he would become the center of such family turmoil — or such later celebrity. Born in 1942, he and his twin sister, Ellaray, went into foster care and were adopted at age four by a Christian family named Jenkins. The children grew up in a rural area near the small town of San Domingo, on the eastern shore of Maryland.
“They were real nice people,” recalls Avery Walker, who went through elementary and high school with Royall. “The father was a very stern, meticulous-type individual, and the mom was a very loving type of person.”
When Royall was sixteen, he met a young girl named Juanita at a church picnic, Walker says. She was thirteen and lived in a nearby town. In no time, she got pregnant, and the couple married before their son was born. A second child came before Royall graduated high school; eventually they had six daughters and four sons. Moreen was the fourth child.
After high school, according to his autobiography on the United Nation of Islam’s Web site, Royall Jenkins moved to Brooklyn, New York, and found work as an auto mechanic, gas station manager and truck driver. It was there, in the late 1960s, that the family converted and joined the Nation of Islam, headed by Elijah Muhammad, “The Messenger,” who had taken over in 1934 from mysterious founder W.D. Fard. Muhammad inspired millions of African-Americans to convert to Islam, teaching that white people were “blue-eyed devils” whose race was created in ancient times by an evil scientist named Yacub.
By the time Moreen was eight, in 1971, the family had moved to Chicago so that Royall could work at the Nation of Islam headquarters. He spent most of his time on the road delivering crateloads of the Nation of Islam’s weekly newspaper, Muhammad Speaks. The family settled in a small house on Chicago’s poor South Side, and Moreen and her brothers and sisters attended the University of Islam, where Muhammad himself — a tiny, frail man with pale skin and a rasping cough — would occasionally visit and talk to the children.
In her husband’s absence, however, Juanita made her children’s lives miserable. Perhaps they reminded her of her own lost childhood; whatever the source of her resentment, she directed it at her offspring. “My mother was very abusive toward us,” Moreen recalls. “She would do it all — from whipping us with an extension cord or a switch or whatever she could get her hands on to just using her hands, punching and scratching.” The house was a mess, and bills went unpaid; at times, the family had no hot water or electricity.
When Royall Jenkins did come home, he usually appeared at the front door unannounced. Those visits provided a joyful reprieve for the unhappy children, Moreen says. “When my father came into town, that’s when we could all sit down and have a meal together at the table. When he left, it was right back to the lifestyle my brothers and sisters and I were used to. My father always appeared to me as the perfect one.”
But Royall Jenkins’ orderly life took a turn toward the bizarre after Elijah Muhammad died in 1975, following years of poor health. After Elijah Muhammad’s death, his son Wallace Muhammad began transforming the group into an orthodox Muslim community and toning down his father’s racist rhetoric, even inviting whites to join. A dissatisfied Louis Farrakhan, who envisioned himself as the leader of the group, broke away from Wallace’s group in 1976 and founded the Original Nation of Islam (now simply known as the Nation of Islam), basing it on a revised version of Elijah Muhammad’s teachings. The tumultuous three years after Elijah Muhammad’s death were a test of members’ faith, according to Royall Jenkins. He left the organization, writing that he didn’t want to participate in “the Death of the Nation.”
And then came his revelation: “At the end of the testing period (1978 1/2),” according to his Web site, “two scientists (angels) actually came physically and took me on a small craft around the universe to acquaint me with who I am and what already exists, to ensure my success in being myself, Allah, The Supreme Being.”
“He said he toured the whole universe within two-and-a-half hours,” Moreen recalls. “And he went into the sun as well, in a specially created ship. He said it was beautiful, and the ship, as soon as he boarded, he thought that it had to take off, but they were already in space — that’s how smooth it was. And when they went into the sun, it was like going into a thick ocean of pure energy. And he said the scientists never spoke to him from the tongue — it was through the mind, and they filled his mind with a lot of knowledge.”
Royall Jenkins, devout Muslim, took this knowledge — and the news that he was Allah — to Farrakhan, who was by then developing a large following. Farrakhan rebuffed him.
By the time Moreen was 21, she had a kindergarten-age child of her own. That year, fed up with an abusive boyfriend, she decided to leave the Midwest. She and her father had spoken occasionally over the years; he’d been driving trucks for various companies and trying to round up followers who would believe in his divinity. He hadn’t had much success, but he did have one dedicated adherent — Joseph Kelly, an electrician from Maryland who provided him with occasional food and money. By the time Moreen located her father, he had been living for six months with the mother of Kelly’s girlfriend in Altoona, Pennsylvania.
After finding her father and devising a plan to leave her boyfriend, Moreen told Royall that she, too, was ready to serve his cause. So he persuaded Kelly to rent a house for all of them in Waldorf, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. Moreen packed up her belongings and moved with her son. Not long after her arrival, Royall told his daughter and Kelly that they were destined to marry. So Moreen and Kelly, who was fifteen years her senior, soon said their vows. Moreen knew she was responding to a higher calling. She was to become an apostle of the Supreme Being.
In the early years, Kelly paid all the bills. Soon, Moreen was pregnant. She gave birth to a daughter, Myesha, in 1986. The children kept coming — Moreen would eventually have ten children — and aside from her maternal duties, her life was dedicated to the study of her father’s theology: Royall Jenkins is Allah in human form. He has come to rid the world of the “negative.” The white man — the “open enemy,” the only one incapable of changing his nature and his mistreatment of others — will be destroyed. Royall Jenkins will turn the universe into a veritable Eden.
Before the birth of her first child, Moreen had begun an intensive, three-year training period. At the end of that time, she would be ready to go out into the world and teach the truth about Royall and his plan for the universe. For hours each day, father and daughter sat in their living room, information spread out over the coffee table — the Quran, the Bible, literature by Elijah Muhammad. “I was not allowed to work,” she recalls. “I was not allowed to have any friends or associates. I was not allowed to go anywhere. I had to stay [at home] and be prepared.”
“His teaching was that war was going to be imminent and that the scientists, or the angels, the 24 elders who are written about in the Bible, are going to use their spacecrafts to help in the Final Destruction and bring about the change,” she says. “He said that white people were made specifically to house ‘negative,’ to express ‘negative,’ to bear witness that the first god had a problem in his creation, and then at the end of time, white people would be destroyed, and it would just be basically black people that would be inheriting the universe.
The Royall family, he told her, were all rulers from other planets, and after negative was eliminated from Earth, they would return to their home planets to cleanse them as well. Moreen, he said, would rule Neptune.
When the training period ended in 1988, Royall sent Moreen around the country for several more years. They placed ads on local radio stations and in newspapers, and Moreen traveled by van to such cities as Chicago, Atlanta and Miami, presenting the program to small groups in libraries and community centers. Her charm and earnestness began to attract members, who in turn started making donations.
Royall was pleased. He rewarded his daughter by making her his second in command, giving her the title “Mother of Civilization.” He, too, went on the road with his message, promising everlasting life for those who would follow him — and doom for those who shunned him. He didn’t mean everlasting life after death, either; his followers, like him, would never die.
In 1993, he had a telephone conversation with Abbass Rassoull, who had been the national secretary to Elijah Muhammad in the Nation of Islam. According to the book The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad by Washington Post journalist Karl Evanzz, Wallace Muhammad had dismissed Rassoull from the Nation of Islam “over financial irregularities” shortly after Elijah Muhammad died.
“Rassoull is another outcast who wants in,” Evanzz writes. He found his place, it seems, with Royall. The two men joined forces, and Rassoull came up with the name “United Nation of Islam” soon after their first meeting.
Royall Jenkins had a plan for heaven on Earth, too: the establishment of a United Nation of Islam model community. For his new settlement, he chose Kansas City, Kansas, and deemed the city “Heaven.” He claims to have chosen the city “mathematically,” Moreen says, but she has another theory. “I’ve got to bear witness that those people in Kansas, no disrespect, but it was easy to run a game on them, and I think maybe that’s why he chose Kansas.”
Moreen was 33 when she traveled to Kansas City in 1996 to oversee the establishment of a business office — called the Civilization and Business Center, which still sits at 12th and Minnesota — and the accounting, filing and telephone systems. She also directed the acquisition and refurbishment of buildings that would eventually house the UNOI’s businesses. Under an emblem of the Islamic crescent moon and star on a red banner, the group hoped to create businesses that would, according to Royall’s plan, constitute a self-sufficient black community. Royall, meanwhile, mostly stayed at the UNOI’s headquarters in Temple Hill, Maryland.
By last summer, the UNOI owned at least ten buildings, including an old school that houses its University of Islam, as well as a few vacant lots around Kansas City (in addition to acres of farmland in Maryland and a grain mill in Delaware). Locally, most of the UNOI’s businesses are clustered along Quindaro Boulevard in a section of town that in the 1800s served as a “promised land” for slaves passing through the Underground Railroad. In the 1990s, it was simply known as a slum.
The UNOI established itself as a positive addition to Kansas City, receiving accolades — and donations of free buildings — from the Unified Government of Wyandotte County as well as praise from local beat cops for helping to clean up a neighborhood along Quindaro Boulevard that was once known for littered streets, drug deals, shootings, stabbings and prostitution. Local media — especially The Kansas City Star — wrote glowingly of the UNOI’ s “neighborhood building.” In 2000, the UNOI’s summer program, in which local youths worked in UNOI businesses to learn entrepreneurial skills, was a finalist in the Best of Wyandotte County awards, sponsored by the Wyandotte County Development Association, on whose board Mayor Carol Marinovich sits.
After members started signing up, donations for the Kansas City community followed. Moreen celebrated with a two-week vacation to Cancun with her husband, paid for by the members.
Out of the growing flock of members around the country, Royall, who already had taken several wives (none of them legally) after his divorce, began selecting more women for himself. In addition to the house in Maryland, he established a second home for his large family on North 10th Street in Kansas City, Kansas. (He, his thirteen wives, and all their children split time between the two, with occasional stays in Cincinnati, where the UNOI also owns a diner and an apartment building.)
Royall told his followers it was permitted for him to take many wives. “When one takes a Divine glimpse at those whom Allah granted more than one [wife], we see according to scriptural writing that they are Divine men expressing divinity,” he has written in an online teaching, citing the biblical example of Solomon (whose name Royall adopted for several years), who had 700 wives and 300 concubines. “I, Royall, Am Allah — The Fullness of Solomon, The New Creator — which justifies such an array of beautiful gifts called wives.”
In the mid-1990s, after he’d gotten her pregnant, Royall added his teen-age stepdaughter to his cadre of wives. Avery Walker, Royall’s childhood schoolmate, was a member of the UNOI at the time. (He left last year.) He recalls the day he went to Royall’s house in Maryland to repair a TV and noticed that the girl was visibly pregnant. “I said, ‘Damn! Isn’t that Ms. White’s daughter?'” he says. When he asked Royall about it, “He said the scientists came back and said it was OK for him to have her as a wife because she’s not a blood relative of his.”
While Royall was busy fathering at least fifteen children by the wives, Moreen began setting up temples in places where there were enough members — Los Angeles, Atlanta and Baltimore as well as New Haven, Connecticut, and Vacherie, Louisiana. Other places, such as Buffalo, New York, got study groups.
“Pretty much everyplace they have something set up, I started it,” she says.
When her father sent her to Kansas City, Kansas, to start up Heaven, she intended to stay two weeks. But the two weeks turned into seven years.
“Heaven is in Kansas City, Kansas. Everyone wants to go to Heaven. You have an open invitation to come to Heaven.”— posting on the UNOI’s online forum.
Heaven, the UNOI poster continues, does not have drugs, lewd or lustful expressions, gambling, rap music, child abuse, assault, murder, nightclubs that sell alcohol, rapes, loud noises, disrespect for authority, negative thinking, whoremongers, pork eaters, stealing, robberies, cursing, sin, sorrow or death.
Tell that to the United Nation of Islam’s neighbors. Just last month, a gunman fired twenty shots at the Nation’s Your Service Station at 5 a.m.
But crime is down and property values are up in northeast Kansas City, Kansas. (A police department public information officer says, however, that because the department began tracking crime statistics by neighborhood in 2000, it cannot ascertain how the crime rate has changed since the United Nation of Islam moved in seven years ago.)
Moreen and James 2X, the national secretary for the United Nation of Islam, were in charge of building the model community. (Like many Muslims, the former James Staton has replaced his last name with an X to signify “the unknown”; in his case, he added a 2 to distinguish himself from another James who joined the UNOI first.) Now in his early forties, 2X was working as a computer programmer in Washington, D.C., when he heard a radio ad for one of Royall’s talks in 1992. He attended, met the leader, and moved his wife and son to Kansas.
“Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, is the heartland,” he explains. “It’s the left side and the right side of the heart. And if you look at it geographically, if you look at it on a map, you’ll see that it’s not in the center of the country — it’s just off-center, just like the heart in the body. So it is the perfect place.
“This place will be a jewel on the planet,” he continues. “People from all over the world will come here to Kansas City, Kansas, to marvel and record and bear witness to the activity that has been developing. Really, we just got started!”
The United Nation of Islam espouses a philosophy that does sound noble: Work for positive change in an organized and precise manner. Live healthfully by eating organic vegetables and salmon and by eschewing most meat, along with alcohol and cigarettes. Speak precisely and courteously to avoid friction. Create a self-sufficient community that produces the goods and services its members need.
“We’re happy, productive and civilized,” 2X says.
To create his “righteous nation out of total filth,” as he writes online, Royall first needed property. To obtain old, dilapidated structures cheaply, or even without cost, Moreen says the national secretary enlisted the help of a new member, Wayman Favors.
Favors is a lawyer who now heads the department within the Unified Government that deals with abandoned properties and tax foreclosures. He arranges and conducts all judicial sales for the county. County records show that the county government has deeded at least six properties to the UNOI since 1996.
When the Pitch asked if he advised the UNOI regarding properties the organization acquired through his government office, Favors said, “No. No.” Then he added, “That is a very odd question. Very unusual. Very odd.” In a written response to subsequent questions from the Pitch, Favors says that he provided only “basic information about the application process” to the UNOI and “did not engage in any special conversation” with members about the property. He maintains that his actions did not constitute a conflict of interest. Assistant County Administrator Art Collins agrees, saying that the auctions are public.
“The United Nation of Islam would not be ineligible to participate just because Wayman is a member,” Collins says.
Unified Government Commissioner Nathaniel Barnes recalls that several members of the United Nation of Islam, including Rassoull, approached him in 1996 to let him know they were coming to the city. Moreen says she didn’t attend the meeting because approaching government officials was a duty Royall assigned to males.
“The men just explained the reasoning for them coming to the city, and this was the nucleus of their operation and they’d be spreading out from here,” Barnes says. “I welcome anyone who wants to come in and add something positive to the city, and I said I’d be more than happy to assist what’s going on.”
The UNOI will not reveal how many members the group has or disclose how many of its followers have settled in Kansas City, Kansas, but Moreen puts the number at about 200. She says perhaps 300 more devotees live in other parts of the country but that “many of them come and go.” Most who move to Heaven are full-time members. They turn over their worldly possessions (including vehicles and, in some cases, the deeds to their properties) upon arrival and are provided basic necessities — food, clothing and shelter in houses or apartments owned or rented by the UNOI — in exchange for labor in UNOI businesses.
“You can’t run a nation with part-timers,” 2X says, sitting in the cheerful, simply decorated Your Diner at 18th and Quindaro. “You have to be dedicated to this 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” Neatly dressed members, working as waitstaff, hover nearby, ready to refill his water glass. In the kitchen, cooks fry up salmon. The diner, which offers salmon croquettes, egg-salad sandwiches, green salads and stir-fried vegetables, advertises “a unique menu, royal service, and affordable pricing.”
A block north, at 17th and Quindaro, is Your Supermarket. It’s supposed to be overflowing with fresh produce from Your Farmland in Cambridge, Maryland. The farm, 2X says, grows five types of watermelons and two varieties of wheat as well as butternut squash, yellow squash, zucchini, okra, tomatoes, navy beans, green beans, potatoes and cantaloupe. But on several occasions recently, the shelves of the store were sparsely stocked, and there was little fresh produce in sight.
A few blocks up, at 13th and Quindaro, attendants at Your Service Station wash cars, pump gas and perform mechanical work. No cigarettes are sold there, but a refrigerator inside is stocked with soft drinks.
At 13th and Freeman, outside Your Warehouse, two old, maroon school buses sit next to a truck with brightly colored images of vegetables, wheat and loaves of bread painted on its side panels. It transports produce and other products around the country, including canned salmon (Your Pink Salmon) caught in Alaska, 2X says. Inside the warehouse is a workshop used by Your Construction Company; a barbershop, where members cut each other’s hair; and a sewing factory, where workers produce evening dresses that look like homemade prom gowns under the direction of a man who describes himself as “a fashion designer from New York.”
“From the outside looking in, it looks like they’re doing right,” says one former member.
It looked that way to the local media as well. In a May 2000 piece titled “They share the secret of their success,” Kansas City Star columnist Barbara Shelley admired the group’s orderly businesses and its members’ nice outfits. “For five years people have looked for something sinister about the United Nation of Islam,” she wrote. “But all anybody can find is a band of sincere, courteous people who believe in a set of principles and carry them out through their actions.”
United Nation of Islam members are exceedingly courteous, though it may take a while to get used to their speech patterns. They substitute share for say: “Brother James shared with me that you called.” They say it is our will rather than we want. They’re trained rigorously on the “right” way to speak. Moreen herself was the instructor of a language class at the Civilization and Business Center. Royall, she says, believes that English is a “bastard language” and that members must be vigilant to prevent Satan from creeping into their speech through negative words.
“For example, we would never say hello, because that means the lowest part of hell,” Moreen says, “And we would not say You look awfully beautiful, because awful and beautiful don’t go together. And we would never say kid. We would say child, because kid means goat.” Nor will they use the word but (for obvious reasons), substituting the word however.
Members must also take classes in “mathematical thinking” in order to learn to react to and solve life’s problems in the “right” way. In some of those classes, held in the evenings after work, members would be asked to stand up and talk about problems they encountered at work that day. “And then the class would work it out mathematically, according to … formulas. Then, as everybody started growing in the math, everybody became acclimated according to how to think ‘factually.’ So we don’t have scenarios like that now. We solve it immediately.” 2X snaps his fingers to illustrate the ease of living through mathematical thinking.
Royall offers a math lesson in an online forum, writing: “After learning Mathematics, which is Islam, and Islam is Mathematics, it stands true. You can always prove it at no limit of time.” He also sells dozens of taped lessons on thinking mathematically through his Web site.
Problem: There are 26 letters in the Language and if a student learns one letter per day how long will it take him to learn the 26 letters?
Answer: A simple math problem here, is too simple for it to mean actually “that.” The greater meaning to the 26 letters is that they represent 13, twice. Since there is a problem with the present Creation it has to be recognized as a fact, or reality exists in the everyday life of God Himself, and that is you have 13 Tribes, and in each tribe there is a dual nature — positive and negative — which adds up to 26. Even in the House of God, we have this element of rebellion and negative.
In October 1997, Royall made an announcement. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad had been reincarnated in the body of Joseph Kelly, Moreen’s husband, who would thereafter be known as The King.
Rassoull wrote a letter to Louis Farrakhan to announce the glad tidings. Kelly — Elijah Muhammad — was scheduled to speak at a Chicago theater. “We hope that you like all of the Messenger’s followers are anxiously awaiting His arrival. We urge you to let nothing or no one rob you of this reunion,” Rassoull wrote. Farrakhan did not attend. Again, the Nation of Islam leader had rejected Royall and his followers. (He had once called Moreen “pushy” when she tried to convince him that her father was God.)
Even Kelly didn’t buy it. He was having a hard time believing he was the Messenger, Moreen says, because he couldn’t remember any events from his past life. He would visit doctors to try to find out what was wrong with his mind and why he couldn’t believe it. Moreen didn’t really believe it, either — though when she looked for signs that it might be so, she noticed that some of Kelly’s facial expressions mimicked Elijah Muhammad’s. This identity crisis only added to problems that had been brewing between the couple, and Kelly became an absentee husband, leaving the Nation for months at a time to work in Kansas City, Missouri, mopping floors and serving food in a corporate cafeteria.
His long absences caused Royall to sanction Moreen’s having a child by another man, she says. In an online forum, she explained her adultery to other former members: “I asked Royall for some companionship due to Joseph … always leaving me and his children. After teaching the many relationship classes, I longed to have one myself.” She then talked to a brother named Jerry, and Royall approved that union. “I told Royall [that] out of my love for him, I wanted to have the son be born under his birth sign. That meant I had to wait four months to conceive.” When the time arrived, she wrote, Royall sent the couple to Detroit, presumably to a hotel. A child was born nine months later — a girl.
By the time the baby was a few months old, Moreen began having misgivings about the United Nation of Islam and her role in it.
In interviews with the Pitch, at least ten members who have left the United Nation of Islam have painted a dismal picture of life inside the UNOI, claiming they were brainwashed and mistreated and that the nation’s leaders controlled every aspect of their lives, making them afraid to leave. With no means of transportation, no bank accounts, no credit cards, no wages, and often cut off from family members and friends who might have helped them, escape from the group they now refer to as a cult seemed impossible to them.
The mathematical thinking and language classes were actually methods of controlling and brainwashing members, they allege.
Michelle White, a native of Kansas City, Kansas, joined the UNOI in 1998, after many chats with attorney Favors. Once a month, Favors would stop by the Rolling Hills apartment complex on 10th Street, where White worked in the business office. Favors, she said, would come in to pay the rent for ten $250-a-month apartments where members lived four to six to a unit. When she started attending classes, White was dismayed to see other members being made to stand up in front of their classmates and be chastised.
“When they would go over those scenarios about what happened during the week, they would just put a butt-burning on the person verbally, about how they shouldn’t have done this or that,” White says. “It was wild — literally, you’ve got grown people standing up there, and someone’s just dictating everything to them — the way they walk, the way they stand, the way they speak. ‘Oh, don’t say please — please is subliminal begging. Oh, don’t say sincerely.’ You know, just a bunch of crazy things.”
Former members say UNOI leaders limited the members’ access to long-distance service, opened and read incoming and outgoing mail, and posted someone to listen in on the few long-distance calls members were permitted to make from the Business and Civilization Center to family.
Two years ago, Royall and his wives convinced then-fourteen-year-old Roxanna Farrow to leave Washington, D.C., for the UNOI compound in Kansas, where she would attend school at the University of Islam. She stayed in Kansas for a year, living in four different households, until her great-grandmother — who is her legal guardian and who quit the Washington/ Maryland temple last year when she realized that Royall’s promises of eternal life were false — fabricated an excuse to take the teen-ager back home. But Farrow, who describes a miserable existence as a UNOI child, says the group’s leaders did everything they could to turn her against her great-grandmother. “They would tell me she’s Satan and not to talk to her,” the girl says. Farrow’s great-grandmother says Farrow is now being treated for severe depression and anxiety.
During the Pitch‘s interviews with eight current UNOI members over the course of a tour led by the national secretary (2X insisted on being present during all interviews, and Royall Jenkins, through 2X, refused repeated requests for interviews), all claimed to be “the happiest” they have ever been, and many said the UNOI had saved them from “bad” situations. All stressed that they have total freedom. One member, brother Trevor X, asserted, “It’s not like I’m being dictated to — I’m in control of my life.” When asked if they have much contact with friends or family members outside the Nation, all of them said they now consider the UNOI their family. “All of those here — the righteous — are definitely my true family,” said Sister Erica X, a young woman who works as manager in the bakery and who moved to Kansas last year after attending the UNOI temple in New Haven, Connecticut, for five months.
“Since I left, a lot of [relatives] of members who have lost contact with their loved ones have contacted me and asked if I could help,” Moreen says. “When I left, I had to re-establish contact with my family members, because I had excommunicated myself from them.”
In fact, Moreen’s younger brother Hanif Jenkins, an accountant in Atlanta, says that when Moreen called to tell him she’d left the UNOI, he was so surprised to hear from her that he thought it was a ploy instigated by Royall to get revenge on him for leaving the UNOI after just six months of living in Kansas City, Kansas. “I was really skeptical at first,” he says. He thought that perhaps Royall planned to send Moreen to stay with him on that pretext, then have her sabotage his job or cause a rift within his household. (Most of Moreen’s other siblings never joined the UNOI, and many lost touch with their father over the years.)
Former members also claim they were emotionally and physically mistreated. They say their food was rationed. They ate mostly modest portions of bean soup and salad made of old lettuce, which didn’t provide the energy they needed for long hours of laboring in the Nation’s businesses before having to attend required classes that lasted as late as midnight. “I was always tired and hungry,” Farrow says.
In a letter to the Pitch, a person claiming to be a current member of the United Nation of Islam wrote: “I have been living in torment for the past few years. … All of your freedom is taken away from you. I want to walk away; however, there is so much mental anguish, and I am not certain how or where to go.”
While Michelle White was a member of the United Nation of Islam, she held the position of “lieutenant” and was on call all day to screen requests from members for anything from a new pair of shoes to medicine to permission to go see a movie on a Friday night. (One former member says the UNOI had a waiting list for underwear.) White says she would take the requests to one of Royall’s daughters, who was “like a damn warden.” One of the most frequent requests — and one that was always denied, White says — was to borrow a camera to take pictures of a new baby to send to relatives outside the Nation.
Because members work at the Nation’s businesses without salary in exchange for their basic shelter and needs, many of the UNOI women, who are often not legally married to the men considered their husbands, qualify for food stamps, disbursed in Kansas though the state’s debit-card-like “Vision Card.” Former members who were themselves receiving food stamps allege that UNOI leaders took their cards away from them and used them to purchase produce at the natural-foods store Wild Oats. They claim the produce was then resold at Your Supermarket. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture has licensed Your Supermarket to accept food stamps from customers.
According to Dan Chambers, head of food and nutrition at the regional USDA office in Wichita, a retailer must have an “ample supply” of “staple foods” — breads and cereals, produce, meat and dairy — to be a licensed food-stamp retailer. The bare shelves at Your Supermarket these days are in sharp contrast, he says, to what a USDA inspector found in 1999, when he visited with a camera to make sure the market met government standards. Moreen recalls that when the government installed the machine that made it possible for Your Supermarket to accept Vision Cards, UNOI leaders took members’ cards and “just started swiping them.” Chambers, who has said he plans to investigate the market, notes that retailers are reimbursed through a direct transfer into a designated bank account when the cards are used. “I’m very disappointed to hear [the allegation],” he says.
Members of the UNOI receive no health insurance, and all former members interviewed by the Pitch say that seeking outside medical care is forbidden in any but the most dire circumstances. For most ailments, members were sent to Your Colonic Center. Patients at the colonic center were often treated by one of Royall’s wives, Dana Peach, whom members called “Dr. Peach” after she attended a seminar taught by a self-healing guru in Arizona, Moreen says. (According to state records, Peach is not a licensed physician in Kansas.) Many ex-members say they were afraid to go anywhere other than Your Colonic Center. Most had no transportation anyway. (A lawyer with the Kansas Board of Healing Arts says that colonic centers are not required to be regulated by state law unless operators there are trying to treat illnesses, and that religious tenets offer some protection for unconventional treatments.)
Last fall, a child’s death within the UNOI family drew scrutiny from investigators. On November 15, a Friday afternoon at about 2:15, a woman called 911 from Your Diner, next door to the Colonic Center. Her seven-month-old baby was unconscious. An ambulance arrived, and little Auriana Fard (no relation to the Nation of Islam founder) was taken to a local hospital, but it was too late. She was dead. More than four months later, Wyandotte County Coroner Alan Hancock has still not filed an autopsy report.
“It’s a difficult one,” he says, adding that he cannot yet release details. Dennis Ware, an investigator with the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department, explains the long delay. “It’s a unique situation that our pathologist was somewhat troubled with, and he’s actually seeking some collaboration from some other pathologists,” Ware says. The Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office is reviewing the case to decide whether to file charges.
Moreen says she once discovered another Fard child, then four, looking pale and weak at the University of Islam. When she learned that the boy’s parents had put him on a four-day fast because they’d heard that Royall had done the same to punish Moreen’s son for bad behavior when he was four, she ordered food to be brought in from Your Diner and stayed while the boy ate. “I felt so sorry for him,” she says.
She adds that she once arrived home from a trip to find that one of her young children had lost weight and looked lethargic. She had to plead with Royall for permission to take the infant to the hospital. Her brother, Hanif Jenkins, recalls going to an outside clinic during the short time when he was a member. Against leaders’ orders, he sought treatment for prostatitis and was given an anti-inflammatory medicine. “They had something called Allah’s Nectar,” he says, “which is pretty much made of a bunch of old leaves that [one of Royall’s wives] picked, and whenever anyone got sick, they had to drink that garbage.” Because of the lack of medical treatment, ringworm has become common among UNOI members, who treat it with garlic, former members claim.
While ordinary members lived ascetically, Royall’s family members lived in comparative luxury. “The motto was ‘The Royall family deserves the best,’ so anybody that has something, for them to be rewarded and blessed, they should give it up to us,” Moreen says. When she was Mother of Civilization, she lived in the best house the UNOI owned in Kansas — a beautiful, peach-colored rehabbed home on Troup Street known as “The Lighthouse,” a picture of which is featured on the UNOI Web site. Other members served as her “help” — a butler, a chauffeur and a cook. Her only son, 22-year-old Daniel Aubrey Jenkins, who is still a UNOI member, often wears an elegant leather coat, in marked contrast to the simple clothes worn by other members. He recently took a high-school-age girl for a wife, former members report.
White recalls that one couple — new members from Atlanta — arrived in a shiny, black Chrysler Sebring convertible. “A few months later,” she says, “I saw him walking to duty, while Royall’s grandson drove by in that convertible.”
An employee at the Kansas City, Kansas, office of the state Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services says she has received several complaints of children being mistreated within the UNOI. She has accompanied state investigators on several unsuccessful attempts to check on the minors’ welfare. “You just can’t get up on their property,” she says. “Two of the calls were to an apartment complex, and they have their own security guard stationed right there. There’s just really nothing we can do.” Moreen and at least five other members say they have called the state’s child-abuse hotline to file complaints against the UNOI since they left.
UNOI children live in the house where Royall and his wives and their children stay when they come to town. It’s known as Heaven’s Inn No. 1. Farrow says that she, too, stayed there for a time during her year in Kansas and that she had to wait on “the Royall family.” Upon awakening at 5:45 a.m., she was allowed ten minutes in the bathroom and a small bowl of hot cereal before starting her duties taking care of Royall’s children.
“I’d make breakfast, clean up, get his ten children up and ready for school, make their beds, change diapers. Then I’d go to school, and I also worked in the bakery and in the diner as a short-order cook.” Former member Raysheen Bazemore, who managed Your Diner for six months in Kansas before leaving in 1997, says that children as young as ten had to wash dishes there nightly, often until midnight. “I would try to be nice and let them go early, but they were basically slaves,” she says. At night, Farrow attended class again and cleaned the house. “I was always being threatened by the wives, and by [Royall],” she says. Adults told her that if she misbehaved, she would be placed in “Class F,” meaning that Allah would not protect her and that during the Destruction, her skin would burn off and her lungs would freeze.
Children of UNOI members attend a school that lacks state oversight. The UNOI established the University of Islam in a rambling orange building on a hill less than a mile from Quindaro Boulevard after the Kansas City, Kansas, School District unanimously voted to award it the former Roosevelt Elementary School building at 36th and Washington for just $1 in March 1999. About 100 children attend classes there instead of going to public school, 2X says.
At the time the district planned to give that building and three others away, at least seven community groups were vying for the facilities and made presentations to the school board. Board President Gloria Willis says she was struck by the neat dress and politeness of the UNOI children she saw. “I think one thing that impressed the board was the services they were going to render the children,” she says. “Not only do they teach them reading, writing and math, but they also teach them skills to prepare them for lifetime, an occupation.” The board did not investigate the UNOI’s background, nor did it check on whether the teachers who would be employed there were certified or even competent. “I’m not sure why,” she says.
Because private schools in Kansas are virtually unregulated, the UNOI school is able to operate freely. It is run by a principal — Royall’s young stepdaughter-wife, Joy Jones. She has only a sixth-grade education, Moreen says, because Royall and the girl’s mother took her out of school when she was twelve and brought her to live with them and Moreen and her family in Maryland.
Former members say that none of the teachers is state-certified. In fact, they report that some are recent high school graduates. “Anybody who says they want to teach, they just send them over to the school and put them in charge of a class,” says White, whose eleven-year-old daughter attended the school for two years. “That was the biggest mistake I ever made,” she says. Her daughter is now in public school and will be receiving remedial help this summer because she tests three grades below where she should be. Rodney Hadley, one teacher whom the Pitch was able to verify still works at the school, is not certified in the state of Kansas; neither is Joy Jones, according to state records.
Moreen, whose children all attended or still attend the University of Islam, says that instructors at the school teach little traditional academic coursework. “Most of the curriculum there is on teachings of my father,” she says. “He taught that the educational system is going to be destroyed, so it was not necessary for children to learn that. It’s more important for them to learn who we are as a people, who he is as the Supreme Being, and what must be done in the last days of Destruction.” (The Destruction was originally supposed to occur in 2000; it didn’t happen, so Royall changed the date to 2010.) Moreen says that children are also required to work in the school, cleaning and painting. And she worries about an unsafe “chemistry lab” where children make deodorant and soap from lye so that the UNOI won’t have to buy commercial products.
Farrow, who is now a junior in a public high school in the Washington, D.C., area, says that the math she was taught at the University of Islam was years beneath her grade level. Her English class was the same; students were taught simple parts of speech, verbs and nouns. “We would sit and meditate and listen to a tape — they’d say Father [Royall] put subliminal messages to help us think right. It sounded like a beach, but with a sound like rewinding and fast-forwarding and seagulls,” she says.
Another troubling aspect of the UNOI’s operations is its finances, the underpinnings of which are unclear. It is incorporated as a religious nonprofit in Delaware, a state that boasts freedom from state income tax for out-of-state businesses that incorporate there. A Dun & Bradstreet report on the group lists its 2001 annual sales at $540,000. (The Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation lists the United Nation of Islam Inc. as a business with stocks, but an attorney for that department says that is either an error or that the group simply hasn’t informed the department of its nonprofit status.)
According to some former members, the group commonly acquires property from its members through the use of quit-claim deeds — a legal way for an owner to sign away legal rights to a property. (The procedure is frequently used in estate planning.)
Avery Walker says he was disturbed by the way the Nation acquired money and property from members. “The idea was to go around to ones who were with the Honorable Elijah Muhammad before his death and convince them they were one of 144,000 [followers who would be saved and then rule the Earth], and they would commit themselves, and then they would go after them financially. They want to know how much money is in your bank account, how much money you receive for retirement. They asked me once, was I going to turn over my house, and I said, ‘No way.’”
The land the Nation now calls “Your Farmland” had been in Wali Bass’ family since the early 1800s, when his great-great-grandfather cultivated an apple orchard and raised cattle and chickens. His parents joined the UNOI ten years ago and allowed the Nation to use the farm, in Cambridge, Maryland, so it wouldn’t lie fallow. But his mother’s will specified that the land was to go to Bass and his four siblings. When she died six years ago, Royall Jenkins and Abbass Rassoull began visiting Bass’ then-75-year-old father. They ultimately persuaded him to sign over the 97 acres.
“He has taken a lot of pain to us,” Bass says of Royall. “I grieve every day over this.” He says he recently met with Rassoull, who promised to try to give a portion of the land back to the siblings. Rassoull told Bass he would have to check with “the board.” There is no board.
On the UNOI Web site, the group advertises Your Banking System and encourages members to place their personal funds into the UNOI bank account in a “black-owned bank” — it’s Douglass Bank in Kansas City, Kansas, Moreen says — so the money can be used to purchase farmland, trucking equipment and raw materials for “nation building.” “It’s still YOUR money,” the Web site assures members. A spokeswoman for Douglass Bank says that, although she cannot discuss personal bank accounts, Douglass Bank operates no “banking system” for any organization. “We have no entities other than Douglass National Bank,” she says.
One elderly former member who lives in the Washington, D.C., area (and did not want her name used for this story) says that Royall and his family persuaded her to hand over tens of thousands of dollars by telling her that they needed the money to buy a gold mine in Africa, in the Ivory Coast. Rassoull has traveled there several times, according to former members and posts on online forums, supposedly to negotiate the trade of a gold mine for money, goats and liquor. So far, members — who have anxiously watched news coverage of civil unrest and fighting in that country — have seen no gold.
“I’m convinced that if that war hadn’t have broke out, they’d have flown the coop by now to Africa,” the woman says.
Moreen says she became increasingly uncomfortable watching her father take members’ money and property. She was also disturbed by his failure to discipline members who were involved in two violent incidents last year. Last April, she says that some UNOI members used a baseball bat to beat an African-American boy who had thrown a rock and broken the window of a UNOI bus. No charges were filed in that incident.
A few months later, in July, a white man was walking his dog with some friends near the University of Islam when some members of the Fruit of Islam (the nation’s paramilitary, consisting of high-school-age boys), headed by Moreen’s son, Daniel Aubrey Jenkins, confronted the man about allowing his dog on the school’s grass. (People should not have pets because they’re “unclean” and it’s “not right,” according to 2X.) Moreen says the members then beat the man and his friends. “It was a hate crime,” she says. Kansas City, Kansas, Municipal Court issued summonses for Daniel A. Jenkins and three other young men on charges of “brawling and fighting,” but the case was dismissed, according to court records. (Wayman Favors represented the members in the case.)
Moreen called her father to complain. “The more I spoke up, the more he tried to silence me,” she says. (She says he used religious explanations for his actions.) When she kept complaining, she claims, her father threatened her life and that of her baby.
Last July 10, Moreen packed a small bag of clothes, took her baby, and drove off in a car registered to the United Nation of Islam. She checked into a local hotel.
Soon, however, UNOI members figured out where she was. Moreen thinks they were tipped off by LaOta Rassoull Favors — Abbass Rassoull’s ex-wife, who is now married to Favors.
The UNOI sent two members to the hotel to remove the tags from the car and report it stolen, Moreen says. The UNOI declined to press charges against her.
Then, Moreen says, Royall had the locks changed on the house that she and Kelly shared. She had hoped to stay in town to continue to fight for custody of her eight minor children, but she decided to leave the state after, she claims, two UNOI members tried to run her car off the road. (She was granted temporary custody in July 2002, but the children weren’t at home at the time she had arranged to pick them up.) She will not reveal where she is staying. She says she fears that UNOI members may try to harm her again.
In August, Moreen returned to Kansas City and went back to the house she had shared with Kelly on Troup Street to get more of her belongings. Because the locks had been changed, she broke a window to gain entry. According to a court document filed in her custody case, Favors, who was representing Kelly, alleged that she had called police after her break-in and lied to them, saying that Kelly and her son, Daniel Aubrey Jenkins, had entered the home illegally. Favors also wrote that Moreen had “made no attempts to contact” her children. (In written responses to questions from the Pitch, Favors says that the time he spent representing Kelly, as well as the time he has spent representing other members in traffic court, were “brief” and were done on his “personal time.” He adds that he routinely works “between 55 and 65 hours per week” at his county job, so his work for the UNOI does not cheat taxpayers.)
“[She has] demonstrated a pattern of behavior which shows a disregard for the legal process and the welfare of her minor children,” Favors writes. Moreen says she did try to contact her children, but that the UNOI made sure she couldn’t reach them. She says she is still trying to get her children back. Her departure caused a scandal — at least a dozen other people reportedly left in her wake. Her own children have written long letters to her that are posted on the United Nation of Islam’s Web site. Her fourteen-year-old daughter, Mariah, wrote a post titled “Daughter to Mother.”
“I can remember watching you every [sic] since I was in my toddler years, solving problems and helping your Father build this Righteous Kingdom, going around the country setting up Temples and Study Groups, to perpetuate the Idea of Righteousness. … What ‘God’ do you have now? … It’s interesting how one can serve the idea of righteousness and being effective at it for several years, and in a few short days trade in respect, love, honor and family, and most of all protection and true love from Allah, to serve satan.”
Moreen’s departure touched off a firestorm of online posts, alternately pleading, confused and venomous. “Moreen Jenkins, you are a thief and a liar,” wrote 2X. “Your … satanic, vengeful behavior bore witness that you are not a fit Mother.” Another member wrote, “So, ‘once-dear-to-us-Moreen,’ consider this post as the equivalent of our tossing a boquet [sic] of ‘Morning Glory’s’ [sic] onto your closed casket as the gravedigger lowers it into the grave. I have wiped a single tear from my eye, blown my nose, and you are no more, since you no longer exist as a living being with the spirit of God … Goodbye.”
The exodus of members may be manifesting itself in other ways, too. Inspections conducted by the state Department of Health and Environment in 1998, 1999 and 2001 found no critical violations at Your Diner, but last year five violations were reported, including moldy fish chili, moldy red peppers in a cooler, raw salmon stored above ready-to-eat produce, carrots stored on the floor, and soiled utensils. In addition, former members say, a Your Sweets to Eat store closed last year for lack of business. The gas station is reportedly the UNOI’s only profitable enterprise.
Moreen knows she hurt some members while she was in the UNOI, and she has contacted many of them to apologize. She has filed for divorce and is depressed because she doesn’t have her children with her. When she calls to try to speak with them, she says, Kelly hangs up the phone. Looking at her siblings’ lives makes her sad about what her life could have been. Most of them have settled in the Atlanta area. One brother is a computer technician, another manages a security company, and a sister is a real estate agent. Most live comfortable suburban lives and are happily married with children. Until she left, Moreen’s life revolved around Allah, the creation of Heaven and the fight against Satan. Now she is out in the real world, facing a new struggle.
“Here I am, almost forty,” she says, “And I’m starting my life over.”