In the year 2021, it is still amazing how many barriers still stand in the way of progress for Black Americans. Just a few months ago, the United States welcomed its first non-white male Vice President. Elsewhere, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson have just become the first Black women to win the Academy Award for makeup and hairstyling. Still, barriers still stand in the way of Black women becoming governors and Black men becoming CEO of Nike. Thankfully, everyone has an opportunity to break down barriers in their own communities.
Ahmed Muhammad was recently named the valedictorian of his graduating class at Oakland Technical High School. He is the first Black valedictorian in the school's century-long history and he does not take that for granted. During his graduation speech, Muhammad addressed that powerful detail while paying homage to his classmates, both present and past.
"As some of you may have heard, I recently became the first Black male valedictorian in our school's history," he said as the crowd cheered.
"And I want to say something about that. Oakland Technical High School has been around for 106 years. And there's absolutely no way you can tell me that I'm the first Black person [male] capable of being valedictorian."
To his point, Oakland Technical High School has a student body that is 35% Black. Furthermore, one of Muhammad's mentors, Akintunde Ahmad, graduated from the school in 2014 with a 5.0 GPA and a scholarship to Yale University. Yet, he was not even named valedictorian.
"Akintunde’s story helped show me what’s possible," Muhammad said.
"And I hope that my story can serve as another stepping stone for Oakland kids. I hope they see that they can accomplish all that I have accomplished and much more."
Muhammad has already started giving back to other kids in Oakland through his science education company, Kits Cubed. Through his efforts, Muhammad has been able to provide science experiment kits to schools across the city. His work has even garnered the support of fellow Oakland Technical High School graduate and Super Bowl Champion Marshawn Lynch.
"I’m most proud of the impact that Kits Cubed has had on our community’s youth," Muhammad told KTVU.
With the help of Ahmad, Lynch and several community leaders, Muhammad promises that he won't be the last Black student to achieve this feat.
"For all of those who didn't get to maximize their potential, for all of those who had the ability but lacked the opportunity, I owe it to them to appreciate this history made by the people who put me in this position," he told his classmates.
"We owe it to them to make sure that while I may be the school's first young Black man to make it as our school's valedictorian, I won't be the last."
This fall, Muhammad will continue his studies at Stanford University in nearby Palo Alto, California.