By SOPHIA TAREEN
The Associated Press
Sunday, March 1, 2009; 9:46 PM
ROSEMONT, Ill. -- From a three-hour keynote address by Minister Louis Farrakhan to $10 T-shirts, mentions of President Barack Obama were everywhere at the Nation of Islam's annual convention in a Chicago suburb.
Despite a flap with the Nation of Islam on the campaign trail, the enthusiasm for Obama within the Chicago-based movement _ which has embraced black nationalism since its founding in the 1930s _ was used as a launching point for celebration, intellectual discussion and a call to action.
"There's an energy among our people that has never been seen before, never produced by any man or organization before," Farrakhan said of Obama before an estimated 14,000 followers Sunday. "But we must not allow our people to live in a false world of euphoria. We must accept our responsibility to build our communities."
Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam have vigorously supported Obama, even when Obama's campaign tried to distance itself from the 75-year-old Farrakhan. After the minister spoke highly of Obama last year at a convention in Chicago, Obama's campaign released a statement condemning some of Farrakhan's past statements that many have considered offensive.
In a speech days after the election, Farrakhan acknowledged that he then purposely laid low, keeping his praise quiet, so as not to affect Obama's chances at winning the presidency.
It was a move many attending the weekend conference in Rosemont said they understood.
"Minister Farrakhan didn't take offense," said Audrey Muhammad, who edits "Virtue Today" magazine, geared at women in the movement. "We understand how politics work."
Ishmael Muhammad, the movement's national assisting minister, claimed Farrakhan's words were twisted.
"He did not want to say anything the media could use to hurt his (Obama's) chances to become the president," Muhammad said. "They want to keep demonizing Farrakhan, despite the good he does."
Farrakhan, who temporarily ceded leadership in 2006 to an executive board while he recuperated from prostate cancer complications, looked strong and healthy Sunday.
He spoke for three hours in a rousing keynote address, often interrupted by standing ovations. Religious leaders, including the Rev. Michael Pfleger, as well as rappers Snoop Dogg and Doug E. Fresh also attended, sitting on the stage behind Farrakhan, nodding and clapping.
The minister spoke mostly of Obama and the duty that Nation of Islam members have before them. He also criticized U.S. and local leaders for privatizing state and government businesses and for U.S. attitudes toward war-torn Gaza.
Farrakhan told followers to be prepared to make sacrifices as Obama begins work on the faltering economy.
"Debt is another form of slavery and oppression," he said. "It's gonna take more than a stimulus package to bring America from where she is."
For some, that included looking to the Obamas as an example.
Broyny Flowers, 32, traveled from Detroit to attend the convention and a standing-room-only session called "The Michelle Obama Effect." Presenters discussed the first lady's approach to marriage, parenting and even how she stocks the shelves at the White House with organic food.
"She is a representative of what virtue is," Flowers said. "She is an anchor for Barack."
At the convention bazaar, signs of the nation's first black president were everywhere. Framed magazine covers and DVDs were for sale. A white T-shirt with an image of Obama between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. sold for $10.
"The impact they are having on the world is being a happy family, an educated family _ the American dream," Audrey Muhammad said.