The first day of classes normally begins with introductions. Students share their names, hometowns and favorite movies or books.
But when Audrey Muhammad begins her first class each semester, she shares something interesting about herself before asking her students to do the same.
“I have a magazine, and I love to write,” Muhammad tells them. “And I’m here to say that you can fill your life with joy. You can fill your life with things that you love to do.”
Muhammad is an instructor of “College Transfer Success,” a course at Durham Technical Community College that helps students plan for their professional and academic futures. She has also written a children’s book, created her own magazine and published guides for personal success.
While many college students are preoccupied with how they will perform on their next test, Muhammad points out that it is just as important to take this time to discover passions, peace and well-being.
“I love sharing that message with students,” Muhammad said. “That you’re not limited. You’re here to discover what you enjoy doing.”
As a high school teacher in Toledo, Ohio, Muhammad discovered that students didn’t enjoy learning about African-American history.
“One day you were in Africa, then you’re on a slave ship,” Muhammad said. “You make it to the ghetto or to the plantation — that history is limited. If that’s all you think about yourself, it kind of restricts how far you think you can go.”
In her writing, Muhammad decided to focus on empowering black children and black women who often see themselves misrepresented in both popular culture and history books.
“Growing up, in a lot of the books we don’t see ourselves,” Muhammad said. “Especially as a black child. You’re not going to see yourself in the history books. If you do, you’re going to see maybe an unfavorable impression of yourself.”
She was inspired to write “Rhymes of the Times: Black Nursery Rhymes” when she was reminiscing about childhood songs with her brother. It surprised them that they were able to recite them long after they last heard them.
Parents often begin reciting these rhymes to their children at a very young age, and many people carry their words and themes with them throughout their lives.
However, black children may not be able to relate to “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or classics such as “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” according to Muhammad. But they can relate to inspirational Black leaders such as Barack Obama and Martin Luther King Jr., who is celebrated in the rhyme “Martin Had a Little Dream.”
Muhammad began writing these rhymes for her daughter, Hasana, when she was younger. Now at 16 years old, Hasana has developed personal confidence and an appreciation for other cultures.
She is learning Chinese, loves Korean culture and has an interest in computer science. She is also the junior editor and a model for Muhammad’s magazine, Virtue Today.
Virtue is a magazine that aims to show women as strong, modest and beautiful, according to Muhammad. The articles cover everything from fashion to family advice. Muhammad began Virtue in California 15 years ago.
“I wanted my daughter to be able to see positive images of women and not everyone scantily clad,” Muhammad said. “I see now even the power of young men seeing women dressed in a modest, beautiful way, that it forces them to look up.”
Muhammad also released a book with her husband, Polymin, titled “How to Set Worthy Goals: An Inspirational Guide to Achieving Success.”
Through her variety of interests, Muhammad hopes to inspire students to never settle for a job they don’t enjoy. While some colleges focus on creating obedient employees, she hopes to help Durham Tech students feel inspired to be more.
“The students here are very respectful,” Muhammad said. “They’re wonderful and eager to learn. They have a rich history, Durham has a rich history. Durham Tech has fabulous instructors, a fabulous community and a wonderful president that focuses on how to better serve our students.”
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