By SASCHA RAIYN, News Editor
By OLEA HOKES, Guest Writer
Dr. Ahmad Rahman, an associate professor of history at University of Michigan-Dearborn, died in his Belleville home Monday, Sept. 21. He was 64.
Students were both shocked and surprised as they spoke amongst themselves about the associate professor of history.
“He changed my life,” said Natasha Gilbert, a senior majoring in math. “As I spoke to my fellow students and told them the news of Dr. Rahman’s death, that was what I heard the most. Just about every person that I spoke to told me that Dr. Rahman had a major impact on their life.”
He was more than their professor, they said. He was a friend, a counselor, a mentor, an advisor and life coach.
“Dr. Rahman did much more than teach his students,” Marty Hershock, dean of the College of Arts, Sciences and Letters, said. “He opened up their minds in ways that changed them profoundly.”
Those who worked with Dr. Rahman – at the university and in the community – said he deftly used his own experiences to connect to others.
“One of the things I really appreciate about him is that he was able to make his experiences as a Muslim, as a black man and as a former prisoner understandable to people from different backgrounds,” said Chuck Warpehoski, director of the Interfaith Council for Peace & Justice.
“His work in the civil rights movement, his role as a Muslim fighting Islamophobia and his active role with the Detroit Public Schools exemplify the character of this great man,” associate provost Ismael Ahmed told the UM-Dearborn Reporter.
A biography of Rahman from the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History says he grew up in Chicago where, at the Lindblom Technical High School, he earned the highest score of any “colored” student on a standardized test.
That score got him an invitation to study at Harvard. But instead, Rahman chose to join the Chicago Branch of the Black Panther Party. He later transferred to the Detroit Branch.
In 1971, at the age of 18, Rahman was accused and convicted of a murder for which he would later be exonerated.
He spent close to 22 years in prison. A global campaign of educators, media, politicians and activists contributed to his sentence being commuted by Governor John Engler in 1992.
While in prison, he earned a bachelor’s degree in Urban Humanities and Sociology from Wayne State University. He was still a prisoner at Jackson State Prison when he was accepted into a graduate program at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor. Rahman received his master’s and doctorate from UM – Ann Arbor.
“He would come to class with a wealth of firsthand experience on the Civil Rights movement,” said student Jacqueline Woods, an English major. “He would not take any excuses for not being prepared for class and he frowned upon not knowing the lectures beforehand.”
Woods said Rahman told her she needed to know her history as well as she knew her name.
Rahman joined the faculty of UM – Dearborn in 2004. His areas of study included Pan-African movements, the history of Civil Rights and Black Power movements in the U.S., African history and the African diaspora.
In 2013 The Michigan Council of Social Studies named Rahman College Professor of the Year.
“At one time during my youth I called myself a revolutionary,” Rahman said when accepting the award. “Now I see myself as more of a solutionary.”
Rahman has been working with the Detroit Public Schools creating online tools to broaden the teaching of African-American history. He also created Cyberdad, a program that matches youth with mentors.
“Ahmad spent his life as a man of both principle and action. Whether on the street, in prison, or as a scholar and teacher, he worked for freedom, justice and equality,” said Ahmed.
Students held a vigil for Dr. Rahman Thursday.
Hershock said the number of students and alumni in attendance served as a testament to Dr. Rahman’s impact.
He said speaker after speaker said Rahman was the single biggest factor in their college success.
“It’s sometimes very difficult for faculty to have a sense for what kind of an impact they’re having on students,” said Hershock. “But it’s pretty clear that professor Rahman had this kind of impact on a daily basis.”
Hershock said professors have been identified to teach Dr. Rahman’s classes for the rest of the semester.
A community memorial will be held at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History Saturday, Oct 3, at 1 p.m. A reception will follow at the University of Michigan Detroit Center at 4 p.m.
“Good Evening Scholars” – Dr. Ahmad Rahman