Active Activist – Mahmoud El-Kati

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If you can’t find Mahmoud El-Kati in his apartment at the Kenwood Retirement Community, look in the library or the workout room. At age 86, Mahmoud continues to seek, and create knowledge and keep himself physically healthy. He is a long-time activist, teacher, lecturer, writer and commentator on the African American experience. Despite the continuing struggle of our country to face our history of slavery and racism, Mahmoud remains optimistic. He feels that “human beings can change their attitudes.”

Mahmoud El-KatiMahmoud credits his family, particularly his grandmother, with his abiding interest in words and learning. He recalls that she was a first-generation freeborn Black woman who was an avid reader of multiple Black newspapers. Her circle of elder friends in the Black community were also an enduring influence. After saying hello, elders would always ask Mahmoud how he was doing in school and rewarded him with a quarter on answering truthfully that he was doing very well. The elders recognized the importance and magic of reading and writing which had been prohibited for Blacks during slave times. Mahmoud points out that the  Black community  was transformed from illiteracy to literacy in 30 short years. Growing up in this tight-knit community Mahmoud never had any doubt that he was going to college.

Mahmoud is a Professor Emeritus of History at Macalester College. In 2008, Macalester established the Mahmoud El-Kati Distinguished Lectureship in American Studies in recognition of his scholarly and community work. This endowment is used to bring distinguished scholars to Macalester for an extended engagement that includes public presentations, classroom appearances and conversations with students, faculty and the local community. Mahmoud was also a founder of The Way, a Northside Minneapolis community center established in the aftermath of urban unrest in 1966. The Way was devoted to cultivating racial pride in African-American youth.

Mahmoud is the author of, among other books,  Politically Considered: 50th Commemoration of the Supreme Court Decision of 1954, The Myth of Race/The Reality of Racism, and Haiti: The Hidden Truth. These books are on a special shelf at the Kenwood which also features other Kenwood residents’ published works. He’s also written numerous articles on the myth of race, Ebonics, gangs and Black youth, education, and sports, among other issues. His writing has appeared in Insight News, The MN Spokesman-Recorder, New York Times, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Minneapolis Star Tribune, and The Nigerian Times.

During the pandemic, Mahmoud kept himself very busy. He is a founder of the Nu Skool of Afrikan American Thought, a group which continued to meet virtually every fourth Friday of the month as they have in person for years. The group is, as Mahmoud says, “very democratic, everyone who is interested in learning about the African American experience is welcome.” They currently meet at the High School for Recording Arts in St. Paul. He also was featured in a short film Listen, Please by J.D. Steele with three other elders in the Black community, Josie Johnson, Bill English, and Sally Steele Birdsong. You can view it on Facebook or YouTube. In addition, Mahmoud and Josie Johnson conducted a discussion of the protest movement which can also be found on YouTube, Minnesota Spokesman Recorder: Elders of the Protest Movement. Mahmoud was featured in the Star Tribune Magazine in Autumn 2020, Seeking Justice, Leaving a Legacy along with Black leaders Josie Johnson, Spike Moss, Sharon Sayles Belton, and Nekima Levy Armstrong.

And if that wasn’t enough activity during the pandemic, Mahmoud also received an honorary degree from Augsburg University in Minneapolis.

In addition to keeping his mind in shape, Mahmoud works out regularly. Twice a week, his personal trainer comes to instruct him in his workouts. Mahmoud returns the favor and instructs his personal trainer on the U.S. Constitution.

In September, Mahmoud will be making a presentation about Haiti for a gathering of Kenwood residents. The Kenwood has a long history of residents presenting on various topics such as the Harry Potter books, economic theory, The Civil War, architecture, and more. We look forward to opening our doors to our neighbors  again so that you can join in and continue to learn from our amazing residents.

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