By MIKE LEE
During the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Dalilah Muhammad, a long-time resident of Rochdale, Queens, became the first American woman to win the 400-meter hurdles in a dramatic race, held during a driving rainstorm at Olympic Stadium. Muhammad led from the first hurdle and finished for the gold medal at 53.1 seconds.
Her victory came on the heels of a series of championship victories, several after coming back from an injury last year. Her determination to achieve this track and field accomplishment acts as an inspiration for anyone with a wish and a goal in mind.
Upon her return home, Dalilah was honored in a parade in Southeast Queens. On Sept. 12, at Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens, Dalilah was recognized along with three other Olympians from the borough.
In her speech thanking Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and other dignitaries for the award, Dalilah told the crowd, “After returning home, so many kids have come up to me, saying that they want to be like me. But my message is to strive to be ten times better than me. That is how I won the gold medal. Don’t have small dreams, set bigger goals to try to achieve.”
But beyond the story of Dalilah Muhammad’s rise to Olympic glory, there is a family as remarkable as she is — her own.
Dalilah’s parents are committed public workers and members of DC 37, both having spent decades working for New York City in their respective roles, and are pivotal to the communities they serve.
Dalilah’s mother, SSEU Local 371 member Nadriah Muhammad, has worked for 16 years at the Administration for Children’s Services Queens field office as a Child Protective Specialist.
“I started in Brooklyn, and later was transferred to Queens,” she said. “My focus as a Child Protective Specialist is following up and checking on families that have been through the system; I monitor to make sure the families are following the court mandates and that everything is going well.”
As for the challenges she faces in her work, she explained, “While it is always difficult when working with families with children who sometimes do not always make the best decisions, for the most part the situations have been workable.”
While describing how the family embraced Dalilah’s sport aspirations, Nadriah also mentioned aspects of her work with her other daughter, Jamilah, who at one time aspired to be a teacher. When asked about what to look for, she advised her that, “It depends with the child, and see if everything is OK.”
Building a strong spiritual foundation
Her husband, Imam Askia Muhammad, is an Administrative Chaplain for Islamic Affairs for the Dept. of Corrections and a member of Local 299. A 26-year veteran of the department, he spoke of the importance of his vital prison work.
“My work involves supporting and monitoring all the Islamic programs at all the jails and Borough Houses in the Dept. of Corrections. I also work with adolescents and adults, both male and female,” he said. We generally counsel, we teach, and instruct on religious matters with the inmates and that has had a very strong impact on the family.”
Imam Muhammad explained the role of their Muslim faith in the upbringing of their children.
“We have had a mosque in Queens for seven and a half years. The children have been basically raised in the mosque, and have a very strong spiritual foundation.”
Askia, who became an Imam in 1988, said, “And the rest is history.”
“We oriented our children and family — and the community — into really understanding Islam and how our faith works in our daily lives. Islam on a reasonable and practical, common sense level,” he said.
In his discussion about his work, Imam Muhammad stressed the focus of his commitment in working with the inmates.
“The challenges are grappling with inmates when we receive them at their lowest point,” he said. “My task is to rehabilitate, revive and make these people whole.”
The family’s firm commitment to public service continues. Another daughter, Jamilah, also serves in the Dept. of Corrections and her brother, Hassan, is a sergeant in the United States Army.