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In Their Shoes-Khasim Mu'min

Dan Altomare   |   Aug 22, 2017

“The battle of life is, in most cases, fought uphill; and to win it without a struggle were perhaps to win it without honor. If there were no difficulties there would be no success; if there were nothing to struggle for, there would be nothing to be achieved.” - Samuel Smiles

     I’m from a place where opportunities and chances are rarely given. Where I come from the words of Samuel Smiles speak volumes;  to get what you deserve, it feels like you have to work harder than everyone else to be successful. I want to be great and hope to someday pave the way for future generations of African Americans. Today, opportunities for African Americans are restricted in less affluent neighborhoods. Statistically, we are less likely to succeed. To allude to the analogy outlined by Smiles, I feel as though life for me is a battle uphill while others are running the same race on flat ground. With limited educational opportunities, harsh financial barriers, and a surrounding environment filled with negativity, many people in my neighborhood fall victim to detrimental lifestyles. Knowing this, I’ve always told myself I never want to live just to become part of a statistic.      Hello, my name is Khasim Mu’min. I’m a 17 year-old African American male born and raised in West Philadelphia. I come from a huge family whose forebearers were generations of black Americans living below the poverty line. The uphill battle I talked about before has always been a challenge for my family. Sometimes chances were presented before them, but for one reason or another they failed to grasp it; potentially out of fear of failure. I wanted to be different. Wanting to be different, I was set on changing the path my family had always settled for; I would rise! As a kid, I faced many challenges. My mother and stepfather did their best to shield my siblings and I, but it’s tough to avoid seeing some of the negativity around me.      I attended Belmont Charter School through the 8th grade. Belmont was really where I started to put things together. When I started, school wasn’t my top-priority. I liked to joke around in class, get into trouble, and I cared more about sports and social life than my future. All that changed, however, when I sat down with Mr. Sherman. Mr. Sherman was, and still is in charge of behavior support at Belmont Charter School. One day in 5th grade, he told me “if you don't sit down and think about your life.. you'll either be dead or in jail before you hit 15.” I remember every word, and I remember the exact way he said it to me. From that point on, I got myself together and straightened up. I began taking school as seriously as I did my sports. I had my head in the books, and I played football and ran track & field. The sport that changed me most, however, was wrestling.      I began wrestling in 5th grade and thought it was cool because of WWE. But let me tell you, my first practice was nothing like what I watched on television! There were no ropes or  suplexes and it was about the furthest thing from what I saw John Cena doing on my TV. My first year didn’t go as expected and at the end of the year I even considered quitting. My coach, Ed McCabe, talked me into sticking it out however and I was glad I did. Over the next two years, I worked to get better and it paid off! After three seasons, I was invited to wrestle for the BTS Philly Dual Team and my Belmont Tigers. The dual team was challenging and rewarding, but the Belmont Tigers was the team I’ll never forget. We were the best middle school team in Philadelphia and everyone knew it. We were filled with athletes up and down the lineup and coaches Ed McCabe and Nick Sellers got the best out of all of us. They taught me what a hard practice was, how to be a contender, and what it meant to be a good wrestler. Coach McCabe and Coach Nick taught me so much more than just wrestling though; they taught me the importance of life.

“Khasim you have so much potential, you just have to use it to your advantage. You have the potential to go far, and be great.” - Chris Hanlon (Fmr. BTS Executive Director)

“You need to take advantage of these opportunities given to you, opportunities like this don't come around for young African-American men all the time.” - Huseyn Ahmad (Khasim's Stepfather)

“It makes me happy to know I motivate you to keep going, and I'll continue to do that. I want you to remember if no one sees the potential in you, I do! I'm your biggest fan and number one supporter.” - Aziah Gray (Khasim's Girlfriend)

     Webster’s dictionary defines potential as “latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and can possibly lead to future success or usefulness.” People have always told me I have potential; and to me that potential isn’t limited. In 8th grade, as is the case for all Philadelphia students, I began thinking about high school. My grades were okay but my behavior was a big problem. My attendance was low, I had a bit of a mean-streak, and it was undoubtedly going to affect my ability to get into high school if things didn’t change. In comes Ms. Yuille; my guidance counselor. Ms. Yuille and I spoke plenty in middle school and when we began to speak about high school, her perception of my potential (or lack thereof) was glaringly obvious. I can still clearly remember a conversation with her where she said “You won't be able to get into the high school of your choice because of your attendance. You might as well get ready to attend West Philadelphia High.” (If you don’t know already, West Philadelphia is not a school you ever want to end up in). These harsh words might have hurt some, but they lit a fire in me. I told Ms. Yuille “Yea, we’ll see about that.” From that point on, I worked as hard as possible not only for myself, but to prove Ms. Yuille wrong. She didn’t see my potential, and that was her loss; because I saw it in myself.      In all honesty, I wasn't sure what school I was going to at the time but I knew it wouldn’t be West Philadelphia High. I was denied by many schools because of attendance, but I ended up being accepted to Palumbo High school in South Philadelphia. While I was definitely proud, I wasn’t satisfied and wanted more. In comes The Phelps School. Phelps School is a boarding school for boys in Malvern, PA. When the opportunity first became available, I thought about saying ‘no’. I was hesitant about an all-boys school, leaving Philadelphia, and fitting in at a boarding school. That was when I sat down with my stepdad Huseyn. He sat me down and said:

“Think about the opportunities that have just been handed to you. Is this something you wanna pass up? With these opportunities you are destined to go far, and do anything you put your mind to. Think about it like this, Kha. How many boys your age and skin color get a chance like this? Not too many, too few. You can't pass this up. Go for it. Take advantage of this opportunity Khasim.”

       With financial aid from the Phelps School that would follow me through my high school years and tuition assistance from Beat the Streets Philadelphia, I came to the realization that this was an opportunity I had to take advantage of. As I mentioned above, my family had opportunities they had missed out on in the past and I couldn’t afford to make that same mistake. The day after speaking with my stepfather I signed my papers and made the leap into the next phase of my life.      In the Fall of 2015 I started my freshmen year at The Phelps School. I met kids from 18 different countries, picked up new languages, and learned different traditions. I was surprisingly comfortable with the dorm life and found it easy to be myself with everyone. That's when the staff started to notice my leadership ability. Two months into school I was already being recognized for my character. At the Phelps School there are awards for academic success success and behavior. Commendations, Merit, and Lion’s Pride (in that order) are the three highest awards students are given each quarter. After maintaining high grades, showing respect to all, and continuing to lead others in the right direction I was awarded commendations and merit in consecutive semesters. Going forward, my goal is to earn Lions Pride before graduating. At the end of the year I was elected Class President. Sports was went well. I finished my freshmen year with great grades.      This past year was my sophomore year and I learned a lot! I served as proctor in my dorm, South Beattie. At Phelps, being proctor is having leadership in and out the dorm and ensuring that the rules are followed. Despite initial doubts, many staff members told me “it would be a great opportunity, and something I should consider doing.” Those words again reminded me of the time I was given the opportunity to attend Phelps. I ended up accepting the position and it went very well for me. Being proctor was easy for me. I used my natural leadership ability to my advantage and students listened to me because they respected me. I made situations easy for everyone. Additionally, I also served as Class President my sophomore year. Being Class President is tough. I had to make decisions not just for myself, but for my whole class. I made it work. I was also inducted into National Honors Society. I made this possible by maintaining high grades, showing growth, continuing with my leadership roles. Before, this was something I thought was impossible for me; in fact, I never even considered this as a goal for myself. I faced some obstacles during my sophomore year, mostly in wrestling. My main issue was weight management, and more specifically, laziness. I didn't hit the gym like I was supposed to. On top of that, an eye injury kept me out of the lineup for a good part of the season. After finally making it back, Coach Miles told me I had two options; sitting on as a backup at 195 or competing up at 220. The decision was easy for me, I wanted to wrestle! PA State tournament came quickly and after only three weeks back on the mat I had some doubts about my preparedness. The first day I went 2-1 and the second day I went 2-2, finishing the tournament in 7th place. Although I didn’t do as well as I had hoped, I know I can get better. Next year, my goal is to place top 5! I accomplished so much my sophomore year, but it wouldn't be possible without the right people backing me. I’m really excited for the 2017-18 school year and all the possibilities.      It's a blessing to be where I'm at today. I overcame many obstacles throughout my life. Some people doubted me, stood in my way, or tried to knock me down but I persevered. I was raised in one of the toughest neighborhoods of Philadelphia. I never thought I'd make it to where I am today, yet here I am. For generations, my people have tried finding ways out. My people have looked for opportunities that won’t come because the system isn’t built in way that gives them a fair shake. The freedoms that all people should be afforded just don’t exist for the people in my neighborhood right now. By the grace of God, I was blessed enough to receive chances and opportunities. I wasn’t supposed to make it. The system didn’t want this. The system labels me a monster and a failure. I’ll give them the monster, but I refuse to be a failure. I’m a beast. A beast who will do whatever it takes to be successful. A beast who's destined for greatness. I’m not a failure now, nor will I ever be. Society fears me. Society fears for a young African American man gaining power; they don't want that. It will happen, it’s only a matter of time; I'll get there for sure. I've been through pain and struggle. I’ve fallen down and gotten up time and time again. I know I’m destined for greatness. I’m going to make it out and leave behind a legacy my family can be proud of. Y'all wanted to know who I am, well now you know. My name is Khasim Mu’min, and this is my story.
Note from Beat the Streets Philadelphia Khasim's story is an incredible one; but he's not alone. With over 1,200 wrestlers actively in wrestling programs throughout Beat the Streets Philadelphia, there are countless kids who like Khasim, have the drive and just need the opportunity to be great. With the support of our incredibly generous donors, we have been able to 'Alter Life's Trajectory' for thousands of boys and girls; but we can do more with your help. Whether it's choosing to give through our donate now page or as a coach and/or mentor by contacting us at btsphilly@btsphilly.org, the bottom line we can always use your help!