Testimony of Abdur-Rahim Muhammad at the 2010 Budget Hearing for the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

Council of the District of Columbia
Committee on Economic Development
Committee Chairperson Kwame R. Brown
1350 Pennsylvania, Avenue, NW
Suite 506
Washington, DC 20004

April 27, 2010

Dear Chairman Brown,
My name is Abdur-Rahim Muhammad a fourth generation Washingtonian and the Founder & President of the Hung Tao Choy Mei Leadership Institute.  We’re a 501- C 3 youth development organization now celebrating our 15th year at our U Street, NW location in Ward 1. 

Thank you for Chairing this Committee. I urge you and this committee to reconsider the proposed decreases to the 2011 budget of DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.  I also urge you to look closely at small community based arts organizations and their ability to impact the residents of our city in a manner that leads towards positive outcomes for the individual, our local community, and even beyond our borders.

Last year this council expanded pre K education for District children. Recently the Healthy Schools Act, co sponsored by Council Chairman Gray and Ward 3 Council Member Mary Cheh, was introduced to the Council to combat the quality of life diminishing affects of childhood obesity.  Since being elected Chairman of the DC Council Chairman Gray has conducted monthly youth hearings in order to hear directly from our city’s youth about their concerns. With these positive acts the District is making a great leap forward in creating a more child friendly and nurturing environment. Let’s not retreat one step by reducing funding for DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. 

During July, 2009 the Hung Tao Choy Mei leadership Institute’s “Lion Dance” team made a competition and performance tour of Mainland China and Hong Kong. As soon as we arrived in China we began performing, winning the hearts of our hosts and thousands of Chinese who watched our performances. From Mainland China we went to Hong Kong where we competed in an International Tournament with nearly 1000 other competitors. We returned to the United States with 15 gold, 4, Silver and 2 bronze medals. Most important our young members returned with a tremendous boost to their confidence and self esteem. Of the 9 youngest team members, 7 were raised in homes headed by single mothers. Our youngest competitor was six years old.  This tour was partially financed by a Grant from the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities. Do not decrease their ability to assist organizations like ours to break down barriers, destroy stereotypes and make dreams come true.

For our city and youth the accomplishments of these young champions reap greater benefits than any of the professional sports championships. Why, because these young Champions will walk through the halls of DC public schools for years to come sharing their experiences and serving as positive role models and youth leaders for their peers.  How often do our professional sports team members interact with DC youth? Has anyone ever seen a member of the Nationals Baseball team, the Washington Football Team, Capitals or Wizards team on U Street, Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, Rhode Island Avenue?  I haven’t but my young International Champions walk those corridors everyday telling their peers about their wonderful accomplishments and encouraging others to pursue their own particular dream.

Recently Voice of America spent several hours at our U Street studio filming a documentary on our school.  The theme is the Positive Contributions that Muslims are making to American Society. The inaugural broadcast was in Pakistan one week ago and will soon be broadcast in as many as 50 different countries. Imagine a small Community Based Arts Organization on U Street, NW now being used by the mighty United States Government to show young Muslims in other countries how Muslims are integrated into American life and culture. The images shown in this documentary are children some as young as 4 ½ years old, so tiny they have to stand on pads and mats to be tall enough to play the big drums, using art to develop their character and develop relationships with children from other cultures that hopefully they will remain friends with for a lifetime.

Paul Robeson the great artist and Albert Einstein the great scientist were good friends.  Einstein’s theories help us understand and appreciate our world and universe much better.  However, artists like the great Paul Robeson help us understand and appreciate ourselves and each other much better.
As we move forward with much attention to our educational system, in order to reap the many positive outcomes we seek in terms of our children’s well rounded development I urge you to reconsider any lowering of support to the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Their work is too important and their staff performs with deep passion and commitment to their mission.

Finally we invite you all to come out to our annual fundraiser, the Paul Robeson "Here I Stand" award gala June 12th at the Lincoln Theater.  This year’s honoree is Ms. Rita Moreno the first Latina to win an Academy award and the only person to competitively win an Oscar, Tony, Emmy, and Grammy award. She’ll be interviewed live on stage concerning her remarkable career.

Thank you very much.