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ALI-BEY, OMAR

ALI-BEY, OMAR (17 Oct. 1954-3 Sept. 1994), a leader in Cleveland's African-American community, was an example of how a person can convert a life of crime into one of social service. Born Harold Iverson in Cleveland, son of Arthur Iverson and Louise (McBride), he attended East Technical High School, but dropped out before graduation. In 1972 he moved to Chicago, IL, where he joined the Blackstone Rangers, a notorious street gang. In 1973, facing a jail sentence, he opted to enlist in the U.S. Army, but his life further deteriorated. He became a heroin addict and served time in the Army stockade. Following a dishonorable discharge from the Army, he moved to Atlanta, where he worked in a machine parts factory. In 1979 Iverson returned to Cleveland and enrolled at Cuyahoga Community College to study journalism and business. He had a drug relapse in 1981 and began to steal to support his habit. While seeking to elude police capture after a robbery downtown, he was seriously injured in an automobile crash. The near-fatal accident prompted a decision to change his life. He kicked drugs, converted to Islam and adopted his Muslim name in 1982.

Ali-Bey earned an associate degree in business management at Cuyahoga Community College and a degree in marketing at Dyke College. He used this education to establish a business selling fabric and clothing from Africa's west coast to various locations around the city. He also became an activist in the African-American community. Through the Coalition for a Better Life, he campaigned to improve conditions in the city's subsidized housing tracts, fought for an Afro-centric curriculum in the Cleveland city schools, and confronted the problem of police brutality. A gifted speaker, he worked with youth in the late 1980s and early 1990s in an effort to prevent violence and helped organize peace summits to promote truces among local gangs. Ali-Bey traveled to Africa in 1989 to discuss trade and cultural exchanges, believing the talks could benefit both African and African-American businessmen. His work to help the community was acknowledged by the Cleveland chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1990, and again in 1993 by the caucus of Black Elected Democrats of Cleveland.

On 16 Jan. 1983 he married Linda Perry (Kalima), and they had 3 children: son Mandela, and daughters Jamilah and Zafirah. Ali-Bey also had another son, Bilal, by a previous union. Ali-Bey died after struggling with the symptoms of AIDS. He is buried in Evergreen Memorial Cemetery in Bedford, OH.