For TV, family puts out welcome mat for 'God Warrior'
A notorious participant on Trading Spouses moves in with local black activists.
By ERIC DEGGANS
Published January 26, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG - When he first met the God Warrior, Abasi Shomari Baruti had little idea what he was getting into.
In October, his family began filming the Fox TV show Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy - a network-described "social experiment," where wives from differing backgrounds trade families for a week.
His wife, Latoya Brown, had applied online to participate with their 7-year-old daughter Shachamaah for the chance to explore the family's life of black-focused activism in St. Petersburg.
Baruti spent a week in his Campbell Park home with the show's most infamous participant, Marguerite Perrin, known as the "God Warrior" for her religious views and a meltdown during an episode last year in which she tore up the $50,000 prize check.
But as the second of their two episodes airs tonight, Baruti and Brown face criticism from a group they have supported for years - the International People Democratic Uhuru Movement, the black-focused St. Petersburg organization known for criticizing police and mainstream media.
"This was an individual thing for our family," said Baruti, 26, given name: Jameel Rashad Malone who initially wouldn't confirm involvement with the Uhurus. "We weren't looking to make this a political platform. But you take whatever opportunity you can ... and you could argue there's no such thing as bad publicity."
But because Brown briefly mentioned the Uhurus during last Friday's show - after group officials declined to be filmed and asked not to be referenced on air - the organization is going public with its displeasure. It plans a public meeting at 4 p.m. Feb. 4 at Wildwood Recreation Center to discuss the show, said Uhuru Movement founder Omali Yeshitela. "We feel the show represents a form of buffoonery," he said. "We feel we have the responsibility and right to control our own image to the extent that's possible."
Like oil and water
Turns out, Baruti and Perrin were like oil and water - an opinionated black activist preaching to an outspoken white woman uncomfortable with heated conversations about race.
Last Friday, viewers saw them spar over everything from Hurricane Katrina (which Baruti called "a weapon of mass destruction against black people") to a discussion about bodily functions that sent Perrin running to the bathroom with dry heaves.
"I wish you could be black for a week," Baruti told Perrin in an exchange Fox put in commercials for the show. "You'd probably kill yourself."
Perrin's response: "I'd be hip hopping around, having a good old time and eatin' gizzard." Later, she took issue with Baruti's statements that he was "prejudiced for black people" and "not interested in what white people have to say."
Brown's time in Ponchatoula, La., unfolded less explosively, with Barry Perrin nervously recounting all the black celebrities the family met in the rush of fame that followed their first Trading Spouses appearance.
"They say, 'Everybody bleeds the same,' but there's been too much bleeding of people my color," said Brown, 30.
Jeff Cvengros, co-executive producer of Trading Spouses, said his production team "fell in love" with the St. Petersburg couple, who homeschool Shachamaah and work an array of jobs - Baruti delivered the St. Petersburg Times for a few months in 2005 and 2006 - while keeping up their activist work.
"What we saw in them was an extremely empowered and unique family that just happens to be black and blue collar," said Cvengros.
Slamming doors and screaming while living with a family of New Age humanists, Marguerite Perrin became the show's breakout character last year - scoring a visit to NBC's Tonight Show, a small movie role and a rap song featuring samples of her rants.
Despite her well-publicized rejection of last year's prize, Perrin eventually took the show's money and had gastric bypass surgery that helped her lose more than 90 pounds.
"We felt Marguerite was a very intolerant person," the producer said. "(Now) she says she's become more tolerant and patient. Let's test that."
Uhuru reaction unclear
Life at Brown and Baruti's household mostly has returned to normal, aside from the occasional jarring question. Brown bristles when people ask if she shared a bed with Barry, saying, "You think I would commit adultery on national television?"
Yeshitela couldn't say if the couple would be allowed to continue volunteering with the movement, saying the group was still investigating the issue. "The explanation given to us was that they needed money," Yeshitela added. "That's an argument people use for anything from selling drugs to selling their body."
Baruti denied telling Uhuru officials money was the reason for doing the show, citing instead the adventure for his family.
Bound by confidentiality agreements, the couple can't say how their $50,000 was spent. The wife from the other family writes a letter determining how the money is used; those details will be revealed tonight when the two women are shown meeting for the first time.
Did Brown learn anything from the experience? "I learned some good food storage techniques - they keep their food in Ziploc bags," Brown said, laughing. "That's about it."
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Eric Deggans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8521. See his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/media.