When it comes to diversity … some talk it and others live it. There’s little doubt that Abdul’Haq Muhammed, executive director of the Fort Myers-based Quality Life Center of Southwest Florida, is firmly entrenched in the latter category.

Several times in his 64 years, the native of the Harlem section of New York City has found himself in situations where the rights and representation of minority groups—whether religious or racial—have been in question.

And, without hesitation, he’s taken it upon himself to be a fully immersed champion of those causes.

“There have been a lot of contributing factors, I think, and it probably starts first with my parents and my faith structure,” he says. “Those things play a significant role. My faith traditionally has defined my sense of purpose in life and the character I strive to live by.”

Muhammed began fighting the conscience fight as a 10th grader when he refused to recite the pledge of allegiance because he didn’t see “liberty and justice for all” in the world around him. He joined the U.S. Army in 1966 and served a four-year hitch, during which he campaigned against random destruction created in the military’s quelling of civil rights riots in minority areas.

His message of empowerment and cultural pride grew stronger in the 1970s via speaking engagements at several New York-area universities, and through his training of chaplains who counseled inmates at infamous penal institutions like Riker’s Island and Sing Sing.

“People arrive to specific places in their lives based on diverse experiences,” Muhammed says. “It can be any number of things that spark a person, a seed inserted into their conscience that causes them to evolve and respond to life differently. I don’t think there’s one pathway. People arrive at different times to their sense of purpose.”

Muhammed moved to Fort Myers in 1990 and founded the Quality Life Center two years later. He’s continued to implore people from different sects within the local black community—African-Americans, Haitians and those from other Caribbean nations—to focus on unity rather than their differences.

In fact, the center’s overarching philosophy, values and mission are tied in to formation of a positive self image, encouraging cultural appreciation and building confidence and promoting cultural awareness.

“In the 1960s, the challenges were conspicuous,” he says. “There was social discord, deprivation, the harshness of segregation. It was overt and very clear. Studying history, those conditions have a way of prodding people to rise to their highest potential humanity to address them.

“We’re telling the young people today, where in the past you were motivated by fear, now you can be motivated out of opportunity. And while the problems of yesterday were more in your face, if you’re not moving to improve lives now, then annihilation is inevitable.”

—Lyle Fitzsimmons