It’s been a long and bumpy road these last nine months, but Aida Al-Kadi is glad she stuck it out. Going back to school after decades of not having set foot in a classroom was a daunting challenge. But with nothing to lose, Al-Kadi took the plunge, jumping into an intense nine-month program at Takoda Institute in south Minneapolis. In doing so she learned much more than the latest public relations techniques: she learned to value herself.
“I knew I had value, but had forgotten” says Al-Kadi looking back. “I was just sitting there. I needed something to do and to feel like I mattered.” Al-Kadi, a divorced mother of four daughters, including one daughter born with sickle cell anemia, definitely had her hands full. In addition to raising her kids, Al-Kadi — who was born and raised in Ohio and whose family hails from Yemen — often took on translation work for her Arabic-speaking family members and frequently volunteered at her mosque.
Still, there was a tug in her spirit, a yearning to do more; and with her daughters becoming young women and off chasing dreams of their own, Al-Kadi was left to grapple with nagging questions she had kept at bay over the years: What else do I have to contribute to my community? What is my purpose now?
Her father and daughters had often prodded and pleaded for her to go back to school and develop interests outside of the home. But a crippling fear had taken root, eating away at her desires to develop her gifts and discover what else she had to offer.
Al-Kadi would have to be shaken out of her rut, and that shake up came from a surprising source. Al-Kadi’s daughter, Sedika Gazey, who had been labeled disabled all her life due to her battles with sickle cell anemia, decided one day that she didn’t want to be treated as disabled anymore.
“She told me, ‘Mom, it’s OK. You can let me go. I will be fine on my own. I’m not disabled!’” recalls Al-Kadi. The family had moved from Ohio to Minnesota seven years ago for Gazey’s bone marrow transplant. Since then, Al-Kadi’s days had been shaped by her daughter’s needs, driving her to medical appointments and helping out with daily tasks. But Gazey had come to a place where she could manage her life and medical condition on her own. It was time to let go.
Stunned by her daughter’s newfound independence, Al-Kadi didn’t know what to do with herself at first. But shock soon gave way to pride and inspiration, as she watched Gazey take steps to define her life on her own terms. When Gazey enrolled in classes and encouraged Al-Kadi to go back to school, Al-Kadi finally felt ready to give it a go.
Of course, enrolling in classes is one thing, and thriving in a nine-month course with an intense cohort system is another. Al-Kadi admits that tears and anxiety clouded the early days of the program. She had to find ways to feel comfortable sharing and engaging with people from outside her culture and community; she had to learn to hear and then trust and value her voice enough to speak up during classroom discussions. These things got easier in time. Or maybe Al-Kadi grew stronger. “If you can put your fear to the side for a little bit and embrace the challenge, you can learn, you can grow…” says Al-Kadi.
“I think that’s what all human beings want to do, make a contribution somewhere.” – Aida Al-Kadi
Al-Kadi’s newly awakened sense of purpose can be felt when she speaks — a certain urgency hums just beneath the surface as she tells you her stories and ideas. People who know her well marvel at the growth they’ve seen in her in just a short time span. She feels particularly proud when her daughters comment on how much she’s blossomed; she always wanted to be a good role model for them.
After she wraps up all of her coursework requirements at Takoda Institute, Al-Kadi would like to find meaningful work in the community, work that utilizes her passion for helping people in need. Al-Kadi has already started realizing her goals by applying and be accepted to participate in the New Leadership Seed Grant program, where she’ll create a proposal to address an issue affecting people in her community, strengthening her leadership and networking skills in the process.
Al-Kadi encourages others stuck in the rut to get out and reinvest in themselves and be open to discovery. “I discovered I have a voice,” says Al-Kadi. “I can motivate, cheer and encourage. I still have life. You have to step out on faith… What do you have to lose?”