By Dwight Hobbes
You needn’t be paranoid to believe the powers that be are out to get you. In fact, under some conditions it’s readily identifiable and a sensible conclusion. Consider El-Haqq Zayid, who relates ongoing obstacles he says he’s encountered, out of xenophobic discrimination, in his pursuit of an education.
Zayid in May became degreed in alcohol and drug counseling at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. And, though college is never a cakewalk, he had to go through hell and high water to do it.
Some background: Not your conventional student, Zayid graduated from the school of hard knocks before ever pursuing a sheet of parchment. He calls it a counterculture. Most folk call it the street.
“I raised myself [on] the west side of Chicago. I have a ‘hood Ph.D. I have mastered every element of the street life, from pimping, gang-banging, running con games, and mobbing and robbing. This kind of education has no future. Death and destruction are always the results of such a lifestyle.
“I got busted in ’04 selling drugs to finance my daughter’s way through college. That don’t make it right. I was put on three years’ probation and went to a treatment center. Met three dynamite brothers there: John Dow, Hank Hickman and Travis Spencer. [They] advised me I should become a drug counselor, since I had the experience. More than a job, to have a career,” which sounded good to Zayid, seeing as how prospective employment options for felons are not exactly abundant.
First, he had to overcome a learning disability and improve on his third-grade education. Hickman steered him to vocational rehabilitation. Zayid followed up, attending classes at the Minneapolis Public Library’s (now Hennepin County Library) Franklin Avenue Learning Center. Eventually, he readied himself to enter Metropolitan State University, then transferred to MCTC.
Along the way, at the library and both schools, he encountered yet another hurdle, that of withstanding “animosity from immigrant Africans. They come here and receive a negative message from the media that Americans of African descent are bad people.”
Rather than buy into the alienation and become resentful in return, he chose to forge a personal bridge between the cultures. “I took my shahadah [oath of faith] and became Muslim. At MCTC, I participated in activities, became a student mentor, peer mentor.” That helped him advise both African and African American students.
Life then grew particularly interesting. “I was a visible person on campus. A lot of students of African descent started coming to my office to complain about instructors.” He recounts that the more he stuck up for students, the more he came under fire from administration.
“When I was president of the Muslim Student Association, [I] invited the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ [to the campus]. The administration did not like their point of view. Therefore, they coached immigrant Muslims to file a complaint. It was divide and conquer. I was written up [on] three accounts [and] beat all three false charges.”
Zayid states that, increasingly, as he sought to be a positive cultural and social influence, he was undermined by authorities safeguarding the status quo, and adds that the climate at MCTC is racist, citing a case in point: “The only African-descent security officer came into my office and told me [that] someone had placed a noose and a photo of Buckwheat on his locker.”
What started out in a valley swiftly went downhill. Nothing he put his hand to was permitted to prosper. The Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ problem was merely a precursor. His advocacy for a Pan African sensibility having brought a considerable amount of administrative weight down, Zayid found himself constantly on the wrong end of one controversy after another at MCTC. None of which should have affected his transcripts.
However, the series of hoops he had to jump through in simply getting his grades transferred from one college to another, even re-taking classes he’d already passed, Metro State U to MCTC, is, to hear him tell it, a blueprint for petty, vindictive, obstructionist spite. He contends that registrars are doing a juggling act with his academic records.
Minneapolis Community and Technical College, he feels, couldn’t bring him down by fair means or foul, yet vindictively persists in doing what it can to thwart him. If so, it is out of ineffectual spite.
He unsnarled his degree from a nightmare of red tape, and legally, he says, MCTC can no longer withhold his degree. He still doesn’t have it in hand, though. While every other student he knows has his or her piece of paper, Zayid has only the satisfaction of having won a long, hard-fought fight.
Coincidence? Happenstance? He sure doesn’t think so. “We graduated April 29. 2013. Everyone has received their degree except me. It is one excuse after another.”
He outlines what certainly sounds like getting the run-around. “They told me at first [that] my adviser had not signed off on it. She informed me she had. I went to the graduation department.” He was then told his degree was in the mail.
That was the first week of May. As of August 3, still no paper to frame and put on his wall. That doesn’t make sense, even for the post office.
“I spoke with Mrs. Shirlesia Hawkins-Dembley, admissions coordinator, to assist me obtaining a solution to this problem. She knows what I have been going through with the system. Mrs. Dembley and I agreed that if the school can issue me another degree, instead of putting it in the mail, I will come and pick it up.”
One way or another, having completed his courses in compliance with Minneapolis Community and Technical College requirements, El-Haqq Zayid will receive his degree. His contention is that there’s no good reason it should have taken this long, and the only reason it has is because he had the temerity to challenge institutionalized racism.
It’s hard to disagree.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.
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