Honors New Haven Community Editor Shahid Abdul-Karim
By InNaam Abdul-Karim
@Innaam on Twitter
ROCKY HILL, Conn. – Shafiq Abdussabur said Shahid Abdul-Karim captures the integrity of responsible journalism through the pen of which he gives voice to the voiceless.
One of many reasons why he received the Media and Journalism Award from the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers (NABLEO) was for his role of being a responsible journalist and watch-dog in the community.
“This was the first time ever that NABLEO has recognized and issued and award to a journalist. The significance of this award was that often the police and the media have the same contentious relationship, like that between the police and the urban community,” said Abdussabur, who announced his retirement as chairman of NABLEO early this month.
“Often the progress of that relationship is predicated on good and responsible news reporting,” he said.
“Shahid has clearly demonstrated that he possesses writing skills that offer a unique degree of insight that captures the integrity of responsible journalism,” Abdussabur said, who’s also a veteran New Haven police officer.
“His stories inspire a community shattered by violence and other daily struggles. He offers a voice of hope for those who are too tired and too burden speaks.”
Abdussabur was the first Muslim to serve as chairman of the association. NABLEO’s headquarters is located in Newark, N.J.
Abdul-Karim, 40, the community engagement editor for the New Haven Register, was among several leaders and community activist who received recognition at an appreciation dinner for their work throughout the state.
The conference and dinner theme was: “It Takes a Village: Solving Gun Violence and Racial Profiling Through Community Policing.”
“We’re the watch-dog, and we’re obligated to expose hypocrisy, corruption and injustice and give everyday people a voice to express themselves,” said Abdul-Karim, who also serves on the board of directors of Muslim Journal.
“It’s not an easy job and being a responsible journalist also means we have to be balanced and fair. We thank NABLEO for recognizing that and appreciate the honor,” he said.
Patricia Abdur-Rahman said it was great to see Muslims being honored for their courage and dedication to the broader community.
“Each of the awardees are examples of what we need to do as Muslims, which is to be powerful agents of positive change and justice in our communities,” said Abdur-Rahman, who attended the awards dinner and is a math coach for the New Haven Public School District.
“Shahid has provided the opportunity for individuals to come together to problem solve around important issues that inner city community’s face, such as gun violence, poverty and racism,” she said. “He has given a voice to the people that otherwise would not be heard.”
Abdul-Karim was promoted community editor last February with the responsibility of bridging the gap between the news organization and various communities of the newspapers coverage area.
According to Digital First Media’s Digital Transformation Editor Steve Buttery, community engagement means: to lead newsrooms to join, lead, enable, curate and listen to community conversations for better journalism.
New Haven Register City Editor Helen Bennett-Harvey said Abdul-Karim has brought national attention to the unspeakable grief of those who are left behind by gun violence in New Haven.
As a result of the impact of his work, in speeches in December on the floor of the Senate, U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. both advocates for stricter gun trafficking laws, honored some New Haven victims who have lost their lives to gun violence.
“Shahid Abdul-Karim has brought his special attention to those of all walks of life since the time he has worked as a journalist at the New Haven Register. With compassion, care and an eye for those who before might not have had a chance to express their stories, Shahid helps to bring the news of Greater New Haven and Connecticut to life,” Bennett-Harvey said.
Yet, it is for those who have felt the sharp sting of discrimination, the pain of violence or the hunger of economic deprivation that Shahid has a gift: Let their voices be heard,” she said.
Last year, the city of New Haven suffered 20 homicides. Majority of the victims and known suspects were young Black men.
“It’s challenging and becomes very emotional when you’re in homes of families who are telling their story of a loved one whose been killed by gun violence; particularly when those young men look like you,” Abdul-Karim said.
“It takes going to funerals, the graveyard, and even sometimes the morgue to present that best picture that respects the family’s wishes.” he said. “Most journalists don’t want to lose their credibility in the community, so they go the extra mile.”
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook School shooting, controversy erupted when some in the New Haven black community became outraged over all the media attention given to death of 20 White students.
Some Blacks in the state believed if 20 Black kids were killed, the media onslaught would have not been the same (case in point homicide rate for young black males).
Abdul-Karim said when he received phone calls from members of the Black community regarding developing a reaction story to the shooting; it was one of his most challenging moments as a journalist.
“Emotions were very high at that time in the state and we were talking about dropping a story like this three days after the shooting spree by Adam Lanza,” Abdul-Karim said.
“There were lots of discussion around it from the leadership team, but ultimately it was a decision I had to make, whether to drop the story then or wait months after,” he said. “The story dropped a day later and things went crazy.”
According to Abdul-Karim, he received death threats and people were calling for his resignation after the story published.
“There were times where I actually feared for my life, those death threats were coming at me constantly,” Abdul-Karim said. “It takes courage and these are things people have a difficult time talking about, especially when dealing with issues around race and stereotypes.”
While Muslim communities are facing societal ills that affect the Muslim life, some find it hard to have candid conversations about real issues.
“We find it hard to talk about homosexuality in the Muslim community, homelessness, substance abuse, domestic violence, the divorce rate, fornication, adultery and the lack of youth involvement that many Masajid are facing,” Abdul-Karim said.
“The notion that these things are not happening in our communities are false. We need more people to stand up in our local Mosque so we can begin to heal as a community,” he said. Muslim Americans are not excluded from the documented numbers.
According to the Rutgers University National Marriage Project, the American divorce rate today is more than twice that of 1960, but has declined slightly since hitting the highest point in the country's history in the early 1980s. Overall, close to 50 percent of marriages started today will end in either divorce or permanent separation.
New Haven attorney and community activist Michael A. Jefferson said Abdul-Karim is the best thing that has happened to the media industry in New Haven in a very long time.
“Finally, we have someone in the print media who is truly immersed in African American culture and our way of life,” said Jefferson, who serves as First District Representative for Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc.
“By knowing us, Shahid, unlike many others, is best qualified to write about us in a way that is honest and sometimes harsh but isn't condescending, stereotypical or racially biased. He's fair and I respect that,” he said.
Mayor Toni Harp, New Haven’s first female and African American mayor, along with several city police chiefs and other local and state elected officials attended the event.
Rev. William Mathis, program manager at Project Longevity said of Abdul Karim, “My brother Shahid has willingly offered his gifts in order to give voice and space to the people of our city who have been oppressed and/or marginalize, allowing them to join the chorus of community, blending and harmonizing with those who have been privileged and who have long enjoyed the symphony of opportunity.
“We as a City are far better because of Shahid’s gifts, unselfishness, and true commitment to insist on the inclusion of ‘the least of these!’” said Rev. Mathis.
Ayesha K. Mustafaa, editor of the Muslim Journal, reflected on the enthusiasm and diligence of Shahid Abdul Karim to bring more production and also more exposure for many Muslim community projects, including the Muslim Journal.
“D. Shahid, as I call him, came forward voluntarily to assist the Muslim Journal at a critical time when the entire newspaper industry is going through trying times. He rolled up his sleeves and put his shoulder to the back of the wagon and helped push this media institution out of a bogged down situation,” Sis. Mustafaa said.
“Now that he has joined another newspaper organization and is now receiving the recognition he deserves, at the same time he has made himself more valuable to the Muslim community in general and to the Muslim Journal in particular. Congratulations, D. Shahid,” she said.