Today, I had my debut as an aspiring professor. I gave my first lecture on African History to a class of super sharp and highly motivated Stanford Students. Standing there in front of some of the brightest minds, even with my podium and powerpoint, was so intimidating. I gave the lecture at 10 this morning with less than 2 hours of sleep. I started out extremely nervous but as I began talking I became a bit more comfortable. As with any first time, it was clumsy and I was self conscious. It was by no means the best lecture given on campus, but I got through a difficult topic: “Structural Adjustments, Oil Shocks and Persistent Poverty in Africa.” My professor/advisor said I did a good job and my students were encouraging. To me that was enough. Afterwards, I had a series of meetings with my students. One of my favorite parts of teaching is discussing their ideas and helping students develop their writing. I had no time to eat, there was seminar where my peers presented their most recent research. We discussed the works in depth, and I was surprised that I wasn’t just about to keel over. Creativity excites me, ideas excite me. I think thats what drove my day.
I stumbled across this path of the educator and intellectual. It sounds really strange to imagine myself as an intellectual. But it is really exciting to think that my whole career is built upon the development of ideas and knowledge creation. I stepped onto DeAnza community college fairly clueless. At the time of my high school graduation, university dreams were over. But they were once again rekindled as I discovered my first true love. I discovered my love during the summer before my first year of college. I was a little timid at first, afraid to make a commitment. But I fell in love with this whole world Islam as a way of life, a civilization, a history, a world view. I began to read voraciously, devouring every book in the library to understand my relationship with the ideas, the texts, and community. I then made my commitment and for years I embarked on a path of self-education and activism.
My mom told me the other day that I better go find the family who I stayed with after I graduated high school. My friends mom told me that in order to live there, I had to go to school.
I didnt know it then, but thinking back now that is when I first began enjoying teaching. I believed in sharing knowledge. I would just build with people all day long about African history and Islamic legacies. There were plenty of causes to fight for, plus we were all hopeful. The intifada was just ending, resulting in Peace talks between Palestine and Israel. The year before, the Algerian government annulled elections. Bosnian Muslims experienced ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. I remember horrified as news stations showed footage of the Rwandan genocide. I remember how angry I was about the lack of concern for black lives. Black bodies were on display like road kill. I remember the numbers rose exponentially. 100,000, 200,000 500,000 800,000,…nearly a million. There were plenty of protests, talks, lectures, rallies. I discovered my love of activism and teaching during this unsure and exciting time. And I was fully engaged in that academic world. But even then, I didnt know I would become a teacher. I had no idea where my life would take me or the ups and downs.
For years, I thought I didnt have the patience to teach. How could I coach somebody through the learning process? What would be my reaction if they didnt get it? After teaching an elderly couple the complex Muslim prayers, I began to consider my gift for packaging information in a way that was understandable. I came back to California knowing I wanted to teach. I re-enrolled in community college and began the long circuitous journey to get my bachelors. Initially I thought I would teach highschool. But I wanted to teach students with a strong desire to learn. I always had a desire to work on text books and education reform. But tens of thousands of dollars in student debt made me reconsider that.
I took some time off from school, well it was more forced because of financial and personal circumstances. I couldnt attend a university or college for three years, when I finally paid off my debt to SCU. I finally received a financial aid package that allowed me to fulfill my dream of getting a university education. For reals, there were many times when it was just a dream. It was fall 2001 and the first day of classes was September 17. A week before, three airplanes crashed into those buildings. Years before, I put away my student activist coat and kept my religious and spiritual life very personal. I was pretty much disengaged from community life. But as discussion opened up in my classes, I was often the only person with knowledge about Islamic world views, the middle East, and Muslim countries. My professor took me aside one day and asked what did I want to do when I graduate. I told him, I wanted to be a writer. He said he considered me an intellectual and suggested that I consider a career in academia.
After a lot of meditation and contemplation, I began to see that as an academic I could make the greatest impact. I loved teaching, I loved writing, I loved activism and community work, I loved watching people learn, I loved the world of ideas and discourse. Getting into graduate school became my singular focus.
Teaching today reminded me that I have been making progress. All the hard work, sleepless nights, and lack of social life are paying off. It seems like I am one step closer to my goal. I have to finish this quarter strongly and write this last paper to become a true Doctoral Candidate. I am beginning to plan my next year. I have worked on designing my own course on Race and Slavery in the Muslim world. I have grant proposals, dissertation proposals, I have to prepare for my oral exam which will test my grasp of my field. It is scary and it goes by at a demanding pace. I pray that I can continue to develop and meet those important milestones. I hit some stumbling blocks, but Im gaining that momentum.
There are so many people who I have leaned on for their support, both materially and in their prayers and kind thoughts. I hope that I can step up to the task. I keep them in mind as I continue this work.