Umar Muhammad, who fought to help the formerly incarcerated have a second chance at life, died in a motorcycle accident Monday afternoon. According to the Durham Police Department, Muhammad was driving his motorcycle south on Alston Avenue just before noon when it collided with a Cadillac Seville.
Muhammad, thirty, raised twin boys and had recently become the father of a baby girl. He worked as a community organizer for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
"He was so, so hungry for knowledge. He was so earnest, so eager, so passionate," says Omisade Burney-Scott, who began working with Muhammad through SpiritHouse about five years ago.
Burney-Scott says Muhammad never judged others for their past. After being released from prison in 2012, he quickly grew into an organizer who spoke at national conferences. "I felt like he was making up for lost time," Burney-Scott says.
Muhammad was a local leader of All of Us or None, an organization that fights discrimination against people who have been incarcerated, and the Clean Slate Project, an expungement clinic. He was also an advocate for the "ban the box" movement.
"He was all about the liberation of his community, and he was one hundred percent committed to never leaving anybody behind," Burney-Scott says. "I think that if people want to figure out a way to continue his legacy, think about how they support this work. What does it look like for you to liberate people who have been left behind?"
"It is such a loss to have someone that humble and that dedicated to the struggle be taken away from us like that, especially in such a tragic manner," says Desmera Gatewood, a fellow community organizer. "There will never be another Umar. He was definitely someone an activist and an organizer should be. He used his lived experience to inform his practice, not to discourage him from wanting to fight alongside people."
Police charged the driver of the Cadillac, Rodney McLaurin, with misdemeanor death by vehicle, failure to yield right of way, and driving while his license was revoked.
SpiritHouse plans to organize a community memorial in the next few weeks.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Godspeed, Umar"