February 20, 2024

From The Hip-Hop Minister to The State Senator: I Have Grown But Kept My Integrity!

6 min read

by Rev. Conrad B. Tillard Sr.

My name is Rev. Conrad B. Tillard, and I am candidate for the New York State Senate District 25 representing Ft. Greene, Clinton Hill, Bedford Stuyvesant, Ocean Hill, and Brownsville. Many of you have known me over the years as Minister Conrad Muhammad, The Hip-Hop Minister, Rev. Conrad, and Rev. Tillard. I am proud to have been recently endorsed by the Mayor of The City of New York, Eric L. Adams, Pastor A.R. Bernard, State Senator Kevin Parker, Assemblywoman Stefani Zinerman, Rev. Dr. Robert Waterman, Rev. Clinton Miller and many other community leaders and Pastors, including legendary rapper and political voice of my generation, Chuck D. I have also been supported by private citizens, religious leaders, civic, and business leaders who are respected in our city by people of every race and religion. I am proud of their support, and indeed grateful to receive it. They have not supported me because I am a perfect person, but they are supporting me because they have watched my commitment to NYC over the last 34 years, and my sincerity and personal growth over the years, as well.

Recently, days before our August 23rd Primary Election, comments have resurfaced about some positions that I held 30 years ago. The paper that printed the “hit job” story used some comments I made 30 years ago, and even attributed to me words I never spoke. The paper never gave me an opportunity to comment on the story yet sought comments and input from my opponent who was a child during the period discussed.

My journey has been comprehensively scrutinized previously in the pages of the leading papers in town including the Amsterdam News.  While journey from the Nation of Islam to Abyssinian Baptist and on to my pastorate in Bedford Stuyvesant is a fascinating story, it is not a new one. In fact, it’s old news.

I have openly and readily discussed my views and important theological changes that have occurred in my thinking since 1997. Like most people I have evolved, while my core convictions have not changed, I am a proud Black man, and an advocate for my people still. Yet I have, through my ministry and faith, developed close friendship with all people of Abrahamic covenant and indeed the entire human family. I’m remined of the words of the late great Muhammad Ali, who said “the man the same at 50, as he was at 30, has lost 20 years.”

I wish the offending papers who have attacked me over the years would have abided by basic journalistic ethics and asked me to comment on their story about me, here is what I would have said.

I am an African American man entering the 58th year of my life. I have been an activist since 1984 and I have been in ministry since 1989. Today, I am an ordained Baptist Minister, and I have served and been recognized by both the United Church of Christ (UCC) and the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches. During my career I have been widely recognized for ministerial and community excellence. In both 1991 and 1992, respectively, I was selected among 30 and 50 young professionals for Ebony Magazine’s “Leaders of the Future.” In 1996, Essence Magazine selected me, along with individuals like Randall Robinson, Denzel Washington, and Samuel Jones in the “Men we Love” recognition. In 2009, Church Women United selected me their Pastor of the Year. In my role as an educator, in 2021, I received the Professor of the Year award by the Black Studies Program at City College of New York. I have affected thousands of lives in a positive manner, I have been there for elders, families, and students. In fact, during my campaign, I have received endorsements by both Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five and current Belize Senator and Leader of the Opposition Party the Honorable Moses Barrow, formerly known as Jamal “Shyne” Barrow, because I ministered to them as youth in crisis as Harlem and Brooklyn teenagers, respectively.

While I have done a lot of good in my ministry and leadership, like all of us I have made mistakes and I have fallen short of the glory of God. Missteps and mistakes are a part of public statements over the years like everyone one else, and for those mistakes, I am not too proud to seek reconciliation. I have and do apologize to those who have been injured by anything that I have done or said. I have also taken concrete steps to prove that I have had a change of heart long before my current campaign. Similarly, over the course of 25 years my theology has evolved, and for my short comings in life, I constantly seek the grace of God, a central tenant in Christianity, and also Judaism and Islam.

I am also consequently forgiving of others who have wronged me. I also understand the evolution of our culture and society.  

While I have my own personal opinions and values, I sincerely respect every individual’s right to live their lives as they see fit, in personal matters, and to make their own medicaldecisions. I respect those individual rights as a matter of faith, law, and my personal ethics. I also believe that our city, society in general, and the Democratic party must be a big tent party and allow for a wide range of personal opinions, religious values, and personal ethics under our tent. This is not a question of the law, but a question of individual liberties – the right of people to be led by their own conscience. If the Democratic Party is going to be successful it must have safe spaces for the everyday people and the traditional among our caucus as well as the progressives. Tolerance cannot solely exist for progressive ideas, it has to also include Catholics, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Christians of every variety, and other faiths as well. We must also make room for political moderates and even more traditional or conservative Democrats.

New York City is cosmopolitan, it is not monolithic or provincial. Our city is heterogeneous and not homogeneous. The 25th Senate District is similarly a place of people who are very progressive and left, traditional or more conservative and we have to find a way, today as we have in the past, to allow for the diversity that will strengthen our party.

Finally, as I ride the NYC transit system, I’m often struck by the diversity among New Yorkers, the orthodox Jewish and Muslims in their traditional attire, sitting next to the church-going Baptists and Catholics in their Sunday best, sitting next to the skater in ripped skinny jeans and graphic tee, who is next to the LGBTQ New Yorker extravagantly attired for Pride, next to the buttoned-up Wall Street executive, who is standing next to a Black nationalist or Black Muslim straphanger. This is New York and it is the city that I have loved since the mid 70’s. New York City always has and always will be a beacon of diversity.

The attempt to drudge up statements that I made in the past and others that have been falsely attributed to me from the mid 90’s or early 2000’s is merely an attempt to distract from the issues that I am concerned about today: public safety, educational equity, and affordable housing. This is an attempt to stem the tide of momentum of my candidacy that has highlighted the failings of an out-of-touch extremist incumbent who would indeed prefer to talk about what I said or didn’t say 30 years ago to distract from what he and the Democratic Socialists are saying today. It is clear that what they are saying today is something residents in the 25th Senate District are not buying.

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