By Abby Parsons
This February, Rappahannock Community College celebrates Black History Month. Our faculty and staff tell us what Black History Month means to them and their own personal histories. Our final feature of the series is Basheer Abdul-Malik, Administrative Assistant of Dual Enrollment at RCC.
Basheer Abdul-Malik was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His mother worked as an Elementary Science teacher and instilled the value of a strong education in all of her children. After enrolling at RCC, Abdul-Malik pursued a work-study position at the college until he graduated in 2013. “Graduating from RCC was truly my proudest academic achievement,” said Abdul-Malik. “I was able to get my degree and move forward with a new life ahead.” After receiving his Associates degree, Abdul-Malik accepted a part-time position in Workforce Development, and in 2017, he was hired full-time under Dual Enrollment.
Missing Pieces in History
Basheer’s childhood education gave him access to Black History from a young age. “I came from a family of educators, and my mom knew what curriculum was being taught,” said Abdul-Malik. “She made sure I knew black history because she knew that it was being overlooked within the public school systems.” In many schools, students were taught the most ‘important’ moments of African-American influence, which bypassed many achievements and contributions from the community. “The Harlem Renaissance is discussed as a quick middle point between slavery and Civil Rights,” he said. “There are so many missing years there.” This led Basheer’s parents to enroll him at Imhotep Charter High School, where he received an education focused specifically around Black and African History.
Even outside the classroom, pop culture failed to have the representation that history dictated it should. “I grew up loving stories of cowboys and Indians, never knowing that there were black cowboys! I was so surprised when my mom told me about black cowboys.” His interest in the Wild West lead him to many black Western legends, including Nat Love, Bill Pickett, and Stage Coach Mary – a U.S. Postal Service worker who defended her stage coach with a shotgun. “Everyone knows about Billy the Kid, but not many people know about Nat Love.”
Abdul-Malik fostered his love of history beyond the western frontier, learning all that he could. Among his inspirations, Madame C.J. Walker rose to the top of his list. Madam C.J. Walker created specialized hair products for African American, becoming one of the first American women to become a self-made millionaire. She was an inventor, who attended school for cosmetology and business to start her own company. “She was one of the few African American businesswomen who were successful in the early 1900s, despite the odds,” Basheer said. Her brand is sold in Sephora stores to this day.
“I think there is a huge disparity in the coverage of our history,” said Abdul-Malik. “It is the same situation with histories of other minorities. We have certain months dedicated to learn about these histories, but we never tie them into the larger picture. History is all one timeline, and that’s what made me love it so much.”
The Bigger Picture
This broader understanding of America’s timeline has inspired Basheer to continue to learn and to share his perspective with others. “We’re now discovering that the world is connected, with the help of technology.” Abdul-Malik said. “But in reality, the whole world has been connected through our shared history from the very beginning.” Basheer also emphasized the importance of learning more about local Black History, especially in a state that had so many historical sites to offer. “History is so much deeper than who was a slave and who was free,” said Basheer. “Everyone has a history, and everyone’s history plays a part.”
Abby Parsons is a member of the Marketing/Communications team at Rappahannock Community College and wrote this for Rappahannock Community College in honor of Black History Month.
Photo courtesy to Nat Love’s privately published autobiography Life and Adventures of Nat Love (1907) and A’Lelia Bundles/Walker Family Collection.