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Abdullah / The Atmosphere of Stephen F. Austin University

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Helena Abdullah: But when they get these people at SFA, the African-Americans—I have a friend, Peggy Grier, that used to work up there. She had the devil the whole time she was there. She was a good-hearted, good-natured person. She would loan money to students to help them out. SFA is not the atmosphere where, in my opinion, where black professionals are going to flourish and blossom. Interviewer: Do you think it’s slow to change? Helena Abdullah: Because of the mentality of the powers that be. Look at the regent. Look who’s running the school. Look who’s all those department heads. Look at all of this that’s going on there. Interviewer: How has Islamophobia, national Islamophobia, impacted your own experiences here? Helena Abdullah: Not any, because when I moved back here to Nacogdoches I was very community-minded. I was in a lot of stuff. I was in a lot of programs. I was doing a lot of starter programs because I worked at Community Coalition which is a grant funded by the government, but the money was funneled through SFA. I worked there five years but even when I came out of there I couldn’t get a job at SFA. Interviewer: What was the name of that? Helena Abdullah: Nacogdoches Community Coalition. It hasn’t effected much change. SFA is still the elitist group where only a certain few people are going to flourish up there. Now they do have— [video cuts away momentarily] Helena Abdullah: I don’t think that a lot of the people that I’m involved with and that I have been involved with for over twenty-something, maybe thirty years, know or care that I’m Muslim. A lot of people know that I’m Muslim, but they don’t care that I’m Muslim. They see me as Helena the community person. The fact that I’m Muslim is just something different. When 9/11 happened, the mayor of Nacogdoches at the time called us and said "Are you guys alright, do y’all need anything?" We had many community people to call us and say "Are y’all okay, has anybody called you guys to threaten you?" We never had anything to happen. Not one single solitary thing, but I know that is because we worked in the community. My husband and I both have been community people Interviewer: Your faces are out there, and people know you. Helena Abdullah: They know because we tell people what Islam is all about. Everybody that we knew knew that those were radical people in their thinking and their actions, and it was deplorable. They did not associate them with us and they did not associate them with our community in Lufkin because that’s where we were going to the mosque. But you still have people who are afraid to be up front and out. There are Muslims even around here that don’t want any attention drawn to them because they’re afraid of what someone might do. Interviewer: Because there’s stories, there’s actual occurrences of people inflicting violence. Helena Abdullah: And just like you have those people who call themselves Muslims—I’m not going to call them a Muslim because they’re not like me. I am a Muslim. I try to live my Quran. They’re not. They’re so-called. They’re claiming to be Muslim. Just like you’ve got these people who are indiscriminately killing innocent people, these people who are Islamophobic are the same kind of idiots because you are killing people you know nothing about. If they have a turban, if they have on a long top, if they look different, you’re assuming—and you know what they say about that word assume—you’re assuming that they’re some kind of radical and that’s wrong too. It’s totally wrong.

Interview Interview with Helena Abdullah
Subjects Religion
Religion › Religious Denominations
Religion › Spirituality
Community Organizations
Community Organizations › Civil Rights Organizations
Race Relations › Black-White Race Relations
Tags Nacogdoches Community Coalition
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Interview date 2016-06-30
Interview source CRBB Summer 2016
Interviewees Abdullah, Helena
Interviewers Howard, Jasmin
Duration 00:04:14
Citation "The Atmosphere of Stephen F. Austin University," from Helena Abdullah oral history interview with Jasmin Howard,  June 30, 2016, Nacogdoches, TX, Civil Rights in Black and Brown Interview Database, https://crbb.tcu.edu/clips/2514/sfa-and-religion-part-2, accessed July 20, 2019