Francis Underwood and the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge

Members of the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge at the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro Station.

Members of the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge at the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro Station.

It’s 2:30 in the morning and my House of Cards binge has sadly come to an end. No more episodes to watch until next season and now I can’t sleep. For those of you unfamiliar with House of Cards, it’s an original Netflix series about a ruthless, power-hungry congressman and is based on the British series of the same name. House of Cards kept me hooked for the following reasons: 1.) It’s set in D.C. Not too many T.V series actually take place in Washington, so that’s kind of cool. I LOVED the opening credits with all the scenes of D.C streets and buildings. 2.) It captures this world where everyone is constantly scheming for more power and prestige. Does this world actually exist? And if it does, am I at a disadvantage in life because I don’t have a calculating, ruthless mind? I mean, when I was a kid the only card game I liked was War because it was based on luck, not strategy. So I really, really, don’t have the get ahead at any cost gene in me, but I am fascinated by those who do. I grew up in a household that valued fairness above all else, even if it got in the way of getting ahead — and I have to admit I sometimes wonder if this resulting lack of competitiveness and intensely focused ambition makes me an ill-fit for a town like D.C. But oh well, that’s a matter for another blog post.

So there I was, lying in bed contemplating the callous political maneuverings of Francis Underwood when I suddenly found myself thinking about a group of African-American men I’ve seen protesting/preaching at the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro Station on many occasions. How this thought-process came about, I don’t know. Anyway a friend dropped me off at H&M on Friday (amazing deals going on there, by the way — I got 18 items for $130!) and when we passed by the Chinatown station, I saw this group of maybe 8 or 10 African-American men dressed mostly in black and camouflage preaching in a rather combative, militant manner. Like I said, I’ve seen them before and I’d always wondered who they were and what and who they represented. I vaguely remember them preaching against white people and homosexuality in the past, but not knowing much else about this group, I took a couple of pictures from the car and made a mental note to look into the matter.

Because I wasn’t having any luck falling asleep tonight, I decided it would be as good a time as any to do a little research. Google informed me that these men belong to the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge,which is based out of Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. I was able to find their website (see below) where I learned that the ISUPK describe themselves as a “faith-based community organization” (though I’m unclear if they consider themselves Jewish or Christian) whose mission is to “awaken” urban America, “where hunger, drug addiction, and single parenting [plague] the…streets and homes of America.” They also strongly believe in helping urban Americans live a sober life within a strong family unit free of government dependency. Still interested in learning more? Click here. This may seem harmless enough, but the group often spews pretty vehement anti-gay rhetoric and from what I’ve read, they believe that white people are “devils” and will be enslaved (at best) and slaughtered (at worst) when Jesus comes again. The ISUPK belong to a larger, better known movement/religious organization known as the Black Hebrew Israelites, who see themselves as descendants of the 12 tribes of Israel. There’s an interesting 2011 article in the Village Voice that does a pretty in-depth profile of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement in New York City; the article states that the Black Hebrew Israelites consider themselves Jewish, although they are, for the most part, not accepted as Jewish by the mainstream Jewish community. According to the article, these “prophets” often call women “bitches” and “whores” and view homosexuality as “a plot to destroy the human race.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center labeled the group is “extremist” and states that they promote black supremacist views. If you want to hear their sermons in action, just type “Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge” in the YouTube search bar and you’ll get plenty of clips. And if, like me, you’re still intrigued by the ISUPK, you can read this interview with General Yahanna, a leader within the ISUPK. I will be honest and say the interview gave me chills because the group’s message and beliefs seem to be so blatantly hateful — I’m all for religious freedom, but as someone who grew up in a very secular household, I sometimes have trouble understanding and yes, even tolerating, extreme/dogmatic religious teachings and beliefs. But if Mr. Yahanna’s interview leaves you wanting to learn more about the why behind the group’s message (because there is always a reason, whether real or perceived, that these groups come into existence), there’s an interesting article from the New York Times on gentrification and street preaching on H Street.

To be honest, it is the reasons behind the creation and formation of these types of organizations and movements (whether founded and followed by African-Americans, Caucasians, men, women, Christians, Muslims, anarchists, etc)  that interest me more than their actual teachings or beliefs. Are these groups — which seem to promote fear and hate — themselves born of fear? Or is it more a desire for freedom and opportunity? Do they feel threatened and/or oppressed within the framework of mainstream American society? Do they come from broken, unhappy homes and need something to believe in — to devote their lives and minds to? Or is it all a farce? My guess is that it’s a combination of factors but that poverty and a general belief — probably at least somewhat grounded in reality — of belonging to a consistently oppressed, marginalized, misunderstood and “forgotten” underclass probably plays the biggest role.

I took these pictures from the car, so I wasn't able to get very good pictures.

I took these pictures from the car, so I wasn’t able to get very good pictures.

Categories: D.C, D.C Culture

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

18 replies

  1. Jisel, this is a very interesting and thoughtful post. It would be interesting for you to delve further into it, though I admit that I myself am not sufficiently curious to know about this group in particular to research it myself. Also, your first paragraph was fascinating– I definitely don’t have that gene either. If you are an ill-fit in DC, where or what kind of place do you think you’d fit in better? Nashville? 🙂

    • Well, I think my major problem with DC is that it doesn’t have a strong arts/creative scene the way New York or San fransisco do. I’m not unhappy here and I’ve really started to love and enjoy DC, but in very aware that in not typical here because my career ambitions are limited….I want a job I enjoy enough not to dread that pays the bills, but my job isn’t my life…although if I could be a full time blogger I think I would be fully committed! I’m not really looking to move anywhere else at the moment. I like the diversity, general level of education, green spaces and job opportunities here, I just think I probably need to work a little harder to meet people with a similar mindset. I’m sure there’s other cities where I would fit in more, but I would be giving up my family, friends, a good job, comfort and stability, and I’m not sure I’m willing to do that at this moment. Can’t be completely happy anywhere, I guess!

      Maybe a few years down the road I’ll be looking into Chicago or Austin or Philadelphia though!

      • Austin blew my mind, and I didn’t exactly love the time I lived in Texas overall (being very non religious and liberal myself) . But Austin, man, that place was beautiful and creatively inspiring. And while D.C. will always be my home…..I’m very seriously contemplating the S.F. Bay Area in the future for a myriad of reasons of stimulus and change in my life and I’m excited about that.

      • I’ve heard great things about Austin. I was in San Francisco a few years ago and I loved it, but after two years living in Bogota, I don’t know that I can handle another cloudy rainy climate. I will have to visit Austin!

      • Have you checked out the Universities?

  2. Interesting article. Radical religious groups scary the hell out of me!

  3. Great research! Thanks for pointing me in the direction of those other articles.

  4. re: “the reasons behind” Humans are naturally drawn to works based systems in regards to religion. And also with most works based systems, there is an immediate feeling satisfaction or joy, and it is that experience that they look to and hold on to. It is similar to immediate feeling one gets after saying something like the “sinners’ prayer” or other types of incantations that are “saving” or accomplishing something. The experience this group has, is centered around nationality and skin color. If you ever get a chance to witness them proselytizing a person that is dark skinned, it will be centered around their skin color and ethnic background. They will feel accepted and a positive feeling will come over them, and they will look to this experience for a long time.

  5. I am sorry you’re first contact with Hebrew Israelites was this group. I am in Chicago so completely unfamiliar with them.
    “We” are not part of Israeli Judaism and do believe we are the true descendants of the 12 tribes …Solomon admitted to being black after all. We also believe that Jesus/ Yahshuyah did already come the first time and that building a temple to continue animal sacrifices is possibly blasphemous, as HE was the True Sacrifice at the Cross.
    We use DEU. 28 as testimony of the curses that were poured out per Daniel and were to be a sign of this group. Returning to Egypt in ships symbolizes a return to captivity…and we are certainly a byword in any nation you find us. Google blacks, Peru, Mexico or other nation and you will find us in the same condition…as a sign…Caribbean too!
    As a mixed multitude exited Egypt there will be a mixed set of believers in the end so this nonsense they are spewing is not of all Hebrew Israelites.
    As this is ” the time of the Gentiles ” there are a lot of Israelites that are angry about their condition …the Bible does state that we would be made jealous of a people that were not a people …meaning nor having yet fallen under the Commonwealth of the True Vine…not yet grafted in.Please Google some of this terminology if you have never read them in the Bible.
    There is an organization called ” THE ISRAEL OF GOD/IOG” on the Internet and if you listened to them you would hear the correct teaching. Not some ” bitches “, ” devils” junk.

    Sacrifice on the Cross.
    We use Deu 28 as testimony of curses that were applied…Daniel states them as being ” poured out in response to sin


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