Ten years ago, a woman known only as Jane Doe 1 came forward to unveil the dark side of a prominent Black Muslim group in Oakland led by charismatic leader Yusuf Bey Sr. Her account detailed years of welfare fraud, child rape and abuse associated with Your Black Muslim Bakery. This is the first time she has chosen to reveal her identity and tell her story to the public.
Video: Ariane Wu
Kowana Banks: The first time it happened to me, I was 8.
I was in the back room with one of the wives, watching Benny Hill. He came back there – motioned for me to come to him, and when I went to him, he started molesting me.
If I told anyone, my whole family would end up killed.
[On-screen text: Ten years ago, the story of a woman identified only as Jane Doe 1 ignited an investigation leading to the collapse of Your Black Muslim Bakery in Oakland.]
[This is the first time she is telling her story publicly.]
Help us do more.
[Title card: A View from the Inside: The Story of Jane Doe 1]
Banks: The word on the street was, hey, if you’re down and out and you’re black and you need a place to go, the bakery was there.
[On-screen text: In May 1971, Yusuf Bey founded Your Black Muslim Bakery in Oakland.]
[As a child, Kowana Banks remembers living at the bakery compound when her family struggled with money.]
[A hive of houses and storefronts, the compound was where bakery workers and Bey’s multiple “wives” and children lived.]
Banks: When I was 10, my father had gotten arrested, and my stepmom couldn’t take care of us. We ended up at the bakery.
[On-screen text: In 1978, she and her brother and sister were officially placed with Bey as foster children.]
[Once a member of the Nation of Islam, Bey split and developed his own devoted following.]
Banks: He had the power of persuasion. Sometimes, he’d be up there and he’d be speaking, and I’d be saying, “What he’s gonna say?” you know?
But it wasn’t a Muslim religion. It was his own religion that Yusuf Bey taught. Not only violence, but color separation. Men were the ceiling and women were the floor – that you’re better to follow a wrong man than a right woman.
I felt very controlled at the bakery. What I wore, where I went, who I talked to. Everything was controlled. He didn’t really let too many outsiders come in, and he didn’t really let you go to the outsiders because he had secrets, and he didn’t want those secrets to get out.
Do you know that we weren’t even allowed to go to the movies? He went to, uh, Guyana. He was gone for a month. We snuck and went to the movies – I believe it was 1978, when “The Wiz” came out. When he came back off of that trip – that was the first time that I had been raped.
I had went to Nora, who was the foster mom, and told her: “He’s trying to do things to me. And I need you to help me.” Her response to me was, “Girl, he’s not doing anything to you that he’s hasn’t done to anyone else.”
Because he operated in all types of violence. In my deposition, I told the story about Usman. I was in the bakery and heard him. Now, he wasn't talking to me individually, but I overheard his conversation. And he was telling about how he walked in the bathroom on Yusuf Bey assaulting a kid. And telling, you know, “Oh man, I couldn't believe it, and I was asking him, Brother Bey, what are you doing, Brother Bey?” You know. That man ended up dead two days later.
It is a very … very strong environment to get out of – a lot of people afraid of not being able to make it in life. Oh, “you leave here, you’re gonna be standing on the side of the streets with signs.” Basically he … scared you into staying.
[On-screen text: At 13, Banks gave birth to her first of three children she would have with Bey.]
[She was one of many underage girls at the bakery compound who gave birth to multiple children.]
Banks: All of the women were instructed to never put his name on the birth certificate.
Banks: They needed to qualify for welfare.
[On-screen text: Bey received welfare payments for many of the bakery’s foster children and the children born to them as a result of the rapes.]
Banks: So he was getting foster care from his own children. And I was a little confused about that – like, um … you don’t notice that these children’s last names are Bey?
[On-screen text: During the 1990s, Bey’s influence and power in the Oakland community grew.]
Banks: He had a level of intimidation over the police department. Why? I don’t know. They seemed to work in hand with him, thinking he was helping keep the community safe when he was the problem in the community.
I was ready to go. Wherever I ended up was better than where I came from.
But I couldn’t take care of them.
[On-screen text: On a night in 1988 when she was 20, Banks escaped the bakery with her children.]
[For Banks, money was a constant struggle and after a few years, her boys returned to the bakery.]
Banks: At the time, I didn't see the problem with it because I didn't quite know what the problem really was.
I knew he raped children and I knew he molested children, but never in a million years did I think he was doing that to his own children.
I prayed. “God, who’s gonna help?” And he told me, me.
When Yusuf Bey would answer the phone, he would say, “Yeahs?”
I said, “I’m gonna tell you something nobody has told you.”
And he said, “Oh really, what is that?”
I said that: “You, sir, are a rapist and a child molester, and let me tell you what I’m gonna do to you first. First, I’m going to the police and I’m going to press charges against you, and then when I’m done, I’m gonna sue you and take all your money.”
He knew from that day forth that it was over for him.
[On-screen text: Under the pseudonym Jane Doe, Banks was able to prove with DNA evidence that her children were fathered by Bey.]
[Other Jane Does corroborated her testimony that Bey had been sexually abusing young girls for nearly 20 years.]
Banks: The police contacted me and said, “Hey, you know, we have word that he done told them to come get you, and we've got your house under surveillance.”
Even though I thought I was handling it perfectly fine. I didn't feel stressed out, you know. I didn't feel afraid. But subconsciously, I think I was. Because I was having uncontrollable anxiety attacks.
[On-screen text: Bey died in the hospital before facing trial. He was 67.]
Banks: Nothing happened to him. Yusuf Bey lived a very good life until the day he died.
[On-screen text: His death set off the struggle for power within the bakery that escalated into mayhem and multiple murders.]
Banks: I’ll be lying if I didn’t say I saw all this coming. Before Yusuf Bey died, a few of his sons had been stopped with illegal guns in the car, and because of his involvement with the police department, his children didn’t pay for it. None of them are paying for anything until after he died.
If I was watching television and I saw a story about a kid that’s been abused, I break down, because I know their pain.
My goal is to make a way, to make a way for them, where they can go and get counseling, shelter and help prosecuting the person that did this to them.
[On-screen text: Banks has been married 18 years to her husband. She is writing a book about her time at the bakery and is working toward providing safe houses for the abused.]
Banks: Abused people go one or two ways: They either self-destruct or make a difference, you feel me? I’m gonna make a difference.
[On-screen text: Court records showed that Yusuf Bey fathered more than 40 childrenand called up to 100 women his “wives.”]
[Bey’s former school is now a place where children learn self-defense.]
Produced and edited by Ariane Wu
Reported by Louise Rafkin
Video footage shot by Adithya Sambamurthy, Ariane Wu
Archival images and footage courtesy of
KGO-TV San Francisco
East Bay Express
San Francisco Chronicle
The Chauncey Bailey Project
Music by LOmelkiyLO, pinkzebra, neosounds, Blear Moon, Kevin MacLeod and Johnny the Ripper