*Los Angeles based activist Najee Ali and Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network/NAN have parted ways over a disagreement with NAN’s decision to basically partner with tobacco giant RJ Reynolds‘ strategy to fight efforts by public health advocates to restrict its sales of menthol cigarettes.
As we reported earlier, RJR has elicited the aid of civil rights activists like Sharpton and ex-Florida Congressman Kendrick B. Meek, to hold meetings at prominent African American churches on the theme of “Decriminalizing the Black Community.”
Sharpton and Meek, along with speakers from groups involved in criminal justice reform, have embraced the controversy, seemingly in solidarity with RJR and have been facilitating forums at churches in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and Oakland in recent months.
Well Ali, who for years, had been collaborating with Tulloss and NAN, stopped being on the same page as this issue has divided them. Initially, Ali, a cancer survivor, helped to facilitate a meeting with local community leaders at Buffalo Wild Wings in South L.A. to hear a presentation by tobacco company on the potential for negative encounters between law enforcement and Black youth if a ban or restrictions were levied against the RJR product. By the way, the company’s signature menthol brand — Newport cigarettes — is very popular with young African American males.
However, after the presentation, Ali says he had a change of heart about his involvement with the event.
“I was paid a small sum to invite a group of leading South L.A community leaders for a private presentation on the tobacco issue a few weeks ago,” he said. “But after listening to the presentation, I realized that I didn’t want an association with a corporation responsible for so much death, disease, and suffering. [Afterwards] I apologized to all my colleagues I had invited.”
Tulloss, the senior pastor of Weller Street Missionary Baptist Church in downtown L.A, near Boyle Heights, told the Compton Herald that he and Ali “had a disagreement” over NAN’s participation as a facilitator of meetings for R.J. Reynolds.
“Najee Ali was not fired. It was not a paid position. He was never paid anything,” Tulloss said. “We parted ways on the basis of [his] affiliation [with NAN]. He’s been a friend and brother [but] we just have a disagreement. He was in support of the dialogues at first, then, after talking to someone [else], changed his mind.
“R.J. Reynolds has been having dialogue on menthol cigarettes for three years. That’s all the meetings have been about, here,” Tulloss continued. “We want to know why there is talk of banning menthol cigarettes when Black Americans smoke [them] in greater numbers. We’re not taking a position.”
Now that Najee All and NAN/Tulloss have parted ways over the issue, he wants folks to know he doesn’t have a personal beef with Tulloss or anyone at NAN.
“I have a difference of an opinion. I’m not going to support anyone who is trying to kill Black people for money. If our people can’t trust religious leaders who can they trust?” Ali said.
For more about RJ Reynolds and its association with NAN read Jarrette Fellows, Jr.’s illuminating report at the Compton Herald.