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  • Omar Waheed

Makai Muhammad does everything possible to make others feel seen

Updated: Mar 16, 2022

Performing at Alluvial Brewery in Ames, Muhammad gave the

crowd a taste of his music

Ames native and grounded in the Ames community, Makai Muhammad works hard to make people feel wanted and does everything he can to avoid making others feel unseen through his work as an artist, basketball coach and work with youth.

While born in Ames, a good deal of his life was bouncing around following his parents’ jobs in social work. Moving to Nebraska at a young age, Muhammad and his family moved around until they found themselves back in Iowa.

“Iowa has this weird thing where it just keeps people,” Muhammad said.

Taking inspiration from his family and pursuing social work on his own, Muhammad got his Associate’s in psychology from Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC). Working with middle schoolers as an Educational Assistant at Ames Middle School, Muhammad credits his passion in helping kids as something he has always been good at, frequently finding himself working in youth groups at churches.

Going further with his passion in helping kids, Muhammad is also a boys basketball coach for All Attack Iowa for fourth through eighth grade students. Something he’s been doing since he stopped playing basketball at DMACC, coaching these children is one of the most rewarding things in Mohammad’s life.

“Building relationships with them [the kids], I get to see them grow as a young men. Some of them were shorter than me when I started coaching them,” Muhammad said. “Now I have a couple of them taller than me and they’re in seventh grade, but when we’re in school it’s still Mr. Mohammad… it’s got a nice ring to it.”

Music and poetry have always been another big aspect of Muhammad’s life. His father Abdullah was a musician and inspired him to follow suit just like with social work. Muhammad made his first studio song in the sixth grade at in his dad’s studio. Thinking it was horrible, Muhammad made a church song and still thinks about it to this day.

"Music is God's greatest gift to me."

While music is on the forefront of his interests, spoken word poetry takes a larger piece of his interest in performing arts. Something he loves and hates, since the age of 13, Muhammad used poetry as a way to express the things he did not feel was right in the world. A very notable poem that encapsulates his struggle growing up mixed race, “Half History Month” is one he doesn’t hide from sharing.

A poem he has been performing for a while now, Muhammad most recently performed “Half History Month” at Lockwood Café’s Black History Month show, one of the shows he helps put on with the work of Siriaco Garcia, another local artist.

Performing "Half History Month" at Lockwood Cafe's BHM

Expressing the inner turmoil and confusion growing up mixed, Muhammad put himself out there in the poem through explaining how he feels during Black History Month. Always feeling divided, Muhammad expressed the confusion he feels in showing people parts of himself to not only his extended family, but to other people he comes across.

Often feeling distant from his white side, Muhammad believes that his mother’s family, the white side of his family feels embarrassed of them. Not having a certainty of where he fits in, Muhammad transformed that uncertainty into a powerful poem explaining the dichotomy of having a mixed identity.

Aware that others feel this way, Muhammad uses the shows he puts on with Garcia to allow people to express themselves in their own way in hopes that it allows them to understand themselves better. In addition to his poetry, Muhammad actively shares his music to. While his poetry he wants to share with the world, he doesn’t care if his music reaches any height as he makes it solely for himself.

“These shows that we do in Ames, I couldn’t care less if I ever do a bigger show,” Muhammad said. “I just love the craft. Music is God’s greatest gift to me.”

The shows themselves serve as an avenue for diverse performers to have a platform in both art and music that they normally would not get in a typically Whitewashed environment in Ames the local art events the city holds throughout the year.

Diversity and equity being a high focus for him, Muhammad proves his dedication to uplifting others through these shows. Always seeing an interesting way in how diversity is treated across Iowa, Muhammad noticed a stark difference between overt and covert racism in the schools he attended. Initially at Ankeny when he first moved back to Iowa, the overt racism was palpable. Knowing he wanted to do something about it, he did all he could until he fully returned to his hometown of Ames and attended Ames High School.

“I owe Ankeny a great deal,” Muhammad said. “I probably wouldn’t have cared as much about equity and inclusion and all those things if it wasn’t for [Ankeny} Centennial.”

When he went back to Ames High School, he took a step back to observe the environment in his junior year. After seeing all he needed to, in Muhammad’s senior year he took action. Noticing how Ames was much more covert in racism, Muhammad helped form Student Advances for Civil Rights Education in a hope to change the status quo and call out the racism he saw daily.

Past all the work he’s done, one thing Muhammad strives to do “make feel people feel respected.”

Truly dedicated to his work, passion and mission, Makai Muhammad will do everything he can to make others feel seen. From music, coaching, social work and putting on diverse events, Muhammad doesn’t see himself stopping anytime soon.

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