With an exciting odyssey that has carried him from the academic circles of Harvard University to the Nation of Islam and into the embrace of a warm congregation in Brooklyn, the Rev. Conrad Tillard took another step last Sunday afternoon when he announced his candidacy for the City Council in District 36 in the heart of Brooklyn.
Tillard is seeking to replace the highly esteemed Al Vann, who has reached the term limits for the office, thereby leaving the door wide open for the minister who pastors the Nazarene Congregational, United Church of Christ. Taking his turn on the City Hall steps after John Liu led his throng of supporters from the area, Tillard stood at the center of his modest turnout and listened while vocalist Gordon Chambers intoned lyrics of “Someday We’ll All be Free,” made famous by the late Donny Hathaway.
Among the coterie backing the candidate were several notable ministers, including the Rev. Odis Braxton, who attended Union Theological Seminary with Tillard. he said “I’m here to offer my support for Reverend Tillard,” who he believes will make a major contribution to the council.
“Brooklyn is a world-class community and it needs world-class leadership,” Tillard said at the opening of his remarks. He said there was a time when he thought Harlem was the greatest place on Earth. “But now I’m in Brooklyn, and it’s not necessary for me to go to Harlem anymore.”
Tillard, 48, with his wife and children by his side, said one of the first things he will do if he wins the election–and it should be a hotly contested one–“is to make sure the name of Sonny Carson is not forgotten.” Carson, who died in 2002, was widely admired for his outspoken positions on Black nationalism and community preservation.
Citing the stalwarts in Brooklyn he hoped to emulate, Tillard ticked off the names of Shirley Chisholm, Jitu Weusi, the Rev. Milton Galamison, William Augustus Jones, Sandy Ray and Gardner Taylor.
“And I will be glad to serve in a community where Tish James, Yvette Clarke, Hakeem Jeffries and Karim Camara are providing exemplary leadership,” Tillard said, noting that as a minister entering politics, he viewed himself out of the tradition of the great Adam Clayton Powell Jr.
In fact, it was at Abyssinian Baptist Church, under the tutelage of the Rev. Calvin Butts, that Tillard acquired his ministerial certification, and this made his transition from the Nation of Islam complete.
“It was the Minister Louis Farrakhan who sent me to New York City when I was 19,” Tillard recalled, “and I owe him a lot for having that kind of confidence in me.”
During his tenure at Mosque No. 7 in Harlem, Tillard, then Minister Conrad Muhammad, soared to national recognition and was particularly respected by the then-budding hip-hop community.
Along with Leon Miles, who was in attendance at City Hall, Tillard made some solid inroads toward organizing the youth, especially through CHANGE (Conscious Hip-Hop Activism Necessary for Global Change).
A few of the changes on his agenda as he seeks a council seat is to rebuild the city’s crumbling infrastructure. “We need first-class health facilities,” he said. “Interborough Hospital is too important to fail.”
He said that the stop-and-frisk tactics of the NYPD must come to an end. “We need people on the council who will speak for the voiceless,” he asserted. “And I’m glad it will be a challenging contest for the seat, because the community needs to examine the candidates and choose the one they think is best. And because I’m concerned, committed and consistent, I think I can win.”