Long before IMAN conceived of projects like Green Reentry, there was an individual in the American Muslim community who used his stardom, passion for justice and love for the community to launch one of the most impressive urban renewal programs in the country. Kenny Gamble, also known as Luqman Abdul Haqq, has been a stalwart in the Philadelphia community for nearly 50 years. Beginning as the lead singer of the harmony group “Kenny Gamble and the Romeos,” he became, along with partner Leon Huff, one of the most prolific and influential song writers this country has ever known, penning over 3000 tracks, many of which became #1 R&B and Pop singles. His work ethic and commitment to his art earned him an induction in the National Academy of Songwriters Hall of Fame, as well as the Grammy for Lifetime Achievement. Along the way, he helped produce such historic musical acts as The O’Jays, Patti LaBelle and Teddy Pendergrass.
However, while his music legacy is certainly still revered, Luqman Abdul Haqq is known in Philadelphia today for his contributions to the uplift of his community. In 1993, he co-founded Universal Companies with his wife Faatimah and embarked on creating a multi-faceted community development and urban renewal program that is reshaping an entire neighborhood.
After opening one restaurant in South Philadelphia under Universal Companies, Gamble then opened a bookstore. He eventually purchased over 100 condemned and vacant properties and provided construction jobs to local residents to rehabilitate the properties and make them available for rental to low and middle income families. With his Jamiyat Construction Company, Gamble has already helped build one mosque in the neighborhood and is currently planning a second. The efforts of the Gamble family have helped produce Universal Business Center, a small businesses support center, Universal Institute Charter School, which opened in September, 1999 with 300 students and the Universal Community Employment Training Center, skills-training and job placement service for adults.
“I remember coming back from South Philly and talking about Kenny “Luqman Abdul Haqq” Gamble to everyone who would listen. I was simply blown away and was even more shocked that many in the Muslim community hadn’t heard about this extraordinary story,” remembers IMAN’s Executive Director, Rami Nashashibi.
IMAN will be celebrating the legacy and paying tribute to Gamble for his work as both a visionary music mogul and co-founder of Universal Companies on Sunday December 11th when he visits Chicago to serve as keynote speaker for the organization’s end of year fund raising dinner at the Harold Washington Library’s beautiful “Winter Garden” hall.
One of Kenny Gamble’s proudest moments in Philadelphia International history involves a song and album he recorded with the entire Philadelphia International Records roster, “Let’s Clean Up the Ghetto.” The song featured the vocal talents of Teddy Pendergrass, Billy Paul, the O’Jays, Lou Rawls, The Intruders, Dee Dee Sharp and Archie Bell. As part of the project, young people were hired to pick up garbage, paint over graffiti, and sweep dirty streets in their neighborhoods. After endorsement by the mayors of Chicago, Los Angeles, Memphis and Atlanta, the successful initiative was adopted by states throughout America. Among the proclamations the project received was one from Pennsylvania governor Milton Shapp, who reserved one week in August each year for “Clean Up The Ghetto Week.” “Let’s Clean Up the Ghetto” became an inspiration for Universal Companies.