Umar Johnson and Roland Martin (TV One)

While everyone is grabbing the popcorn for the Blac Chyna-Rob Kardashian beef, the real donnybrook was happening Monday on TV One’s News One Now, when host Roland Martin had ankh-right leader Umar Abdullah-Johnson on his morning show.

Everything seemed cool in the Great Ascot vs. Daishiki War, and then everything exploded. Johnson called a panelist on the show a “coon,” and the segment erupted into a shouting match whose volume is rarely heard outside of Baptist-church deacon board meetings. Even though Johnson went into his belligerent “This motherfucker is lying” voice in record time, he made a number of claims about himself about which many have asked for years. Instead of wild speculation, we decided to look into these claims and settle them once and for all.

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To be clear, The Root does not have a vendetta against Umar Johnson, but we believe that anyone who has collected almost three-quarters of a million dollars from black people should be vetted. You think Newsweek would do this? Do you think the Washington Post even knows who Umar Johnson is?

While we didn’t look into some of the more defamatory accusations that have emerged in the last weeks—the “conscious stripper” fiasco or that weird screaming video against another Hotepticon, during which he answered the phone while it was still ringing—we decided to focus on the claims that have emerged from Johnson’s own unmustachioed mouth.

He says he is a certified school psychologist. Is he?

In a word: Yes.

Millersville University 1997 Touchstone Yearbook
Millersville University 1997 Touchstone Yearbook

The Root did as Johnson suggested to Martin and called Millersville University. We talked to the admissions office, which sent us to the registrar’s office, which told us that all verification of degrees, enrollment and credentials is handled by the National Student Clearinghouse—which contracts with many colleges and universities.

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The National Student Clearinghouse verified Johnson’s graduation from Millersville University, but because there has been speculation that the Umar Abdullah-Johnson in those records is a different guy, we searched the archives and found this picture of Johnson as a senior at Millersville University.

We also found evidence that Johnson is certified as a school psychologist in the state of Pennsylvania.

So what happened to all that money he raised?

For more than five years, Johnson has traveled the country raising money to open the Frederick Douglass Marcus Garvey Leadership Academy for Black Boys, or FDMG, receiving donations from thousands of his supporters. In 2014 he informed the public that he was looking to buy the now-defunct St. Paul’s College in Virginia and turn it into a boarding school. When confronted about the specifics, he has refused to answer, as he did in this video:

Two weeks after that video was uploaded in January 2015, Johnson told a crowd that because people didn’t want to take their “lazy ass to the post office and get a stamp,” he had opened an account with PayPal. However, in the same video, Johnson informed his followers that PayPal had frozen more than $100,000 in donations because he didn’t have the 501(c)(3) status required for tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations. He then stated that he had applied for the tax-exempt status.

On March 3, 2015, Johnson created a GoFundMe page with the express purpose “to acquire and rehabilitate either the Historically Black St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville Virginia or the Chamberlain-Hunt Academy in Port Gibson Mississippi.”

To date, GoFundMe says that he has raised $375,989 in the 28 months since he began his campaign. This does not include the cash he has raised through in-person solicitations at speaking engagements or the money that has been mailed to him by supporters outside of his online campaign. On Monday’s NewsOne Now show, Johnson told Martin that he has raised $700,000.

To date, no one has seen financial documentation showing how much money he has collected, or how he has used any of the funds. No one has seen a business plan, an application for accreditation or anything tangible that indicates he is making strides toward this so-far mythical school.

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According to IRS rules, all nonprofit organizations are required to “make available for public inspection certain annual returns and applications for exemption, and must provide copies of such returns and applications to individuals who request them.” Plus, the IRS mandates that “no part of a section 501(c)(3) organization’s net earnings may inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.”

This solves everything, right? Since Johnson said that he applied for tax-exempt status in 2015, anyone who asks for financial records for the FDMG school gets them, right? Anything else wouldn’t just be unscrupulous; it is illegal for a nonprofit to hide its finances, and there is video of Johnson saying that he applied two-and-a-half years ago for 501(c)(3) status.

But when The Root searched the IRS database for the Frederick Douglass Marcus Garvey school, we could find no record of Johnson’s application, under either his name, the name of the school (there is a “Frederick Douglas Mastery Charter School” listed in Pennsylvania, but that’s not it) or any variation of the name. We even searched for the address he lists for donations—nothing.

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As it stands, there are thousands of people who have donated between half a million and three-quarters of a million dollars for black empowerment and uplift, but no one knows what happened to their money.

Is he a descendant of Frederick Douglass?

Since his rise to prominence, Johnson has been accused of lying about his familial relationship to civil rights hero Frederick Douglass, forcing the family to issue a statement that reads in part:

The family of Frederick Douglass has received numerous inquiries about Umar Johnson questioning his relationship to Frederick Douglass. There have also been questions about the legitimacy of his PhD and handling of the donations he’s received for a school he is promoting. We can tell you with 100% certainty that he is not a descendant of Frederick Douglass.

With that being said, Mr. Johnson is very careful not to bill himself as a “descendant”, but he doesn’t correct people when they refer to him in this way.

Johnson told Martin that he has never claimed to be a direct descendant of Douglass. Instead, Johnson asserts that his great-great-great-great-grandfather was Douglass’ first cousin.

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Yet, Johnson has often claimed, as he does in this clip, to be a “direct ancestor” of Douglass, even though almost every genealogical researcher agrees that the term “ancestor” applies to “someone from whom you descend in a direct line, parent to child, grandparent, great-grandparent, etc.

Also, the Douglass family’s claims that he doesn’t correct people when he is referred to as a “direct descendant” is supported in this short video.

To be clear: None of Frederick Douglass’ blood flows through Umar Johnson’s veins. The closest he will admit regarding this is that maybe he shares a lineage with Douglass, which is akin to thinking you end up in Snoop Dogg’s will because he calls you “cousin.” This research foiled my plans to inherit a great booty-shake fortune from “my” Uncle Luke.

But is he a doctor?

This is the million-dollar question. It is impossible to prove a negative. Just as you can’t prove that I am not a Jedi and an X-Man who possesses the ability to fly, even if you’ve seen no evidence of it—I can’t prove Umar Johnson is not a doctor of psychology.

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However, The Root searched every level of Johnson’s education but could find no proof that he holds a doctorate in psychology. But what started off as simple educational research has turned into a mystery.

The school Johnson claims he attended for his doctorate—the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine—also participates in the National Student Clearinghouse. It could not verify a degree under any variation of the name Umar Abdullah-Johnson or under Johnson’s birth name, Jermaine Shoemake.

Every doctoral candidate must submit a dissertation, and PCOM makes its students’ dissertations available online. When we looked through the university’s archives, we found a link to Umar Johnson’s dissertation, “The Relationship Between Self-Concept and Academic Achievement in African American Middle School Students: A Correlational Study,” which indicates that Johnson indeed submitted a thesis in PCOM’s doctor of psychology program. But unlike the other dissertations, Johnson’s was not available for download.

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We then looked at the graduation-ceremony program for 2010—the year Johnson’s dissertation was submitted. He was not listed on the commencement program, even though he appears in the 2009 program as a doctoral candidate. In fact, we could not find any evidence that Johnson graduated from PCOM.

Mysteriously, a .pdf file of the program from every commencement exercise at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine is available online, except for the year Johnson supposedly graduated. In addition, 99 percent of students who received a doctorate from PCOM have their dissertation available online, but Johnson’s is not.

PCOM also posts videos of its graduation ceremonies online—the school has cataloged them on YouTube in a playlist—except someone has submitted a copyright-infringement claim only for the graduation ceremony that took place in the year Umar Johnson supposedly graduated. 

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The fact that Johnson’s dissertation, commencement program, graduation ceremony and every other piece of documentation that would prove he graduated from PCOM with a doctorate have apparently disappeared from the internet is either the biggest coincidence in the history of histories or he just may not have a doctoral degree.

When The Root reached out to Johnson by email and Twitter for comment on this issue and others, we received no response by the time of publication.

So, what now?

Well, if I had the cure for racism, black unity, the education of black boys or whatever else Johnson claims to know, and the only thing holding me back was the widespread belief that I was a Hotep charlatan—when I walked onto the set of Roland Martin’s show, I’d have had my degree and a transcript. When I showed up at The Breakfast Club’s studio, I’d have had certified financial breakdowns of where people’s donations went. The fact that he does not and will not do this is Donald Trump tax-returns-level strange.

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So, I’m not saying that Umar Johnson is a lying con man who stole money from his own people (many of whom are poor but hopeful) just because no human being on the planet Earth has seen his doctorate. I also would never tell people that they shouldn’t trust Johnson simply because they haven’t seen a trace of evidence regarding where their donations go or because he repeatedly cites “scholarly” facts that are the opposite of true (although I think it says somewhere in Fourth Thessalonians that you should never trust a man who wakes up in the morning and shaves his mustache off). And even when he gives speeches about uplifting the black woman, I’d never remind you of this tweet:

All I’m saying is that just because Umar Johnson appears to be hiding his financial records, being less than open about where he gets his money from, defaming women on Twitter and traveling around the country convincing people, many of whom are poor and uneducated, that he is on their side, doesn’t mean that he is a con man ...

Maybe he’s just colluding with the Russians.

View the video below: