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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Sunday June 16th 2024

Sticking with It: Persistence pays off

“Oh the Places You”'ll Go!” With Spring comes Graduation-Commencement Processions. Commencement for this family, this Spring is best described in Dr. Seuss”'s book, “Oh, the Places You”'ll Go!” Naomi Mohammed, mother, student, and Welna Hardware “Locksmith,” fosters a sense of worth and validation in her 5 children. Together they parlay that into spiritual, academic, and worldly success. All of the women of the family graduate this Spring from their respective schools. Pictured left to right: backrow, Naomi and Emelie (St. Kate”'s University, StP.); front row, Nathan, Abby (DeLaSalle), Marissa (Hope Academy, Mpls.), and Andrew.

by Lauretta Dawolo Towns, Banyan Community Coordinator

In some ways, theirs is an unlikely story from East Phillips. In other ways, the story represents what many Phillips families experience everyday ”“ socioeconomic hardship. Naomi Mohammed, the beloved keymaker at Welna ACE Hardware, is a single mother of five fantastic children. Five out of six people in the Mohammed household, including Naomi, are graduating ”“ they have truly beaten the odds.

Naomi grew up in the Phillips neighborhood of the 1950”'s and 60”'s along with three sisters and two brothers at 25th St. and 17th Ave. “Everybody knew everybody in this neighborhood,” she reminisced. She attended Holy Rosary Grade School, now Little Earth Neighborhood Early Learning Center, and then attended Regina High School, an all girls Catholic School where PICA Headstart currently resides at 42nd St. and 4th Ave. Naomi started working at age 16 in the renowned Sears Roebuck building at Chicago Ave. and Lake Street, the current site of the Midtown Exchange.

At age 23, Naomi entered a non-traditional field for a woman: carpentry. “I liked working with my hands, getting a tangible result”¦I could see what I did,” she said. Naomi”'s parents didn”'t expect her to go to college. Instead, she was expected to get married and have children. And that”'s what she did. She got married at age 25, and one year later she had her oldest son Nathan.

Naomi tried to do things differently in her own marriage: “I expected more of a partnership. Instead, it was stressful, awkward and one-sided.” She didn”'t want to be the kind of wife her mother was: shy, quiet, and impartial. “My mother was religious, strict, never communicated her problems”¦She didn”'t question anything. Then I came along”¦asking ”˜why”'”¦and ”˜let”'s change things”'. In high school, she began to embrace my outspokenness and admire it. I became the voice,” she explained.

Eighteen years and five children later, Naomi divorced her husband. “I kept thinking, I”'m a doer, not a quitter. But I could no longer do all the giving while someone else was doing all the taking,” she said. At the time, her kids ranged in age from 4 ”“ 17. Naomi”'s ex-husband left town, leaving her all of the responsibility for the children and there was limited support from extended family. Nonetheless, her parenting philosophy was simple: participation and trust. “Everyone had to participate”¦if there was grief, we had a family meeting”¦retaliation wasn”'t allowed. We also trusted each other. I told them they can trust me to provide and I trusted them to reciprocate,” said Naomi. She taught them to tell the truth up front, to be responsible to each other, and direct cause and effect. “If the dishes aren”'t done, then I don”'t cook dinner,” she said rather practically. “You have to foster in them a sense of worth. I was open enough in conversation that they knew where I stood,” she added.

Throughout the years, Naomi has kept her family anchored in the neighborhood. She is a devoted parishioner at Holy Rosary Catholic Church and has served for many years at the annual Spring Festival. She is also a familiar face at Welna Hardware store on Bloomington Avenue, where she has been employed since the late 80”'s. “I love my customers”¦it”'s like a community, a small town within a big city. We know each other”'s business”¦like Cheers, only Hardware,” she said with a smile.

The diversity of the area is a big reason why Naomi stayed here to raise her family. Phillips is traditionally home to many Native American, African American, and Latino families. “I love this neighborhood. It”'s a balanced assortment of people, like a bag of jelly beans”¦the languages”¦the foods”¦ [My children] have an ability to communicate well with a variety of people. They converse comfortably because they are comfortable with themselves,” she explained.

College after high school was always encouraged in the Mohammed household and at another community institution, the Banyan Community. “The benefits of being part of the Banyan were close proximity, consistency, and career exploration. I had back up, assistance, and reinforcement other than me,” said Naomi. “I met Naomi at Welna Hardware in the Fall of 1990 when we moved into the neighborhood. I was getting some hardware for my ”˜new-old house”'. Over the years, we have maintained our friendship while getting keys cut at Welna, and raising our children as they attended school and Banyan events together,” recalls Joani Essenburg, Executive Director of the Banyan Community. Where Naomi planted the seeds, the Banyan watered them. It was there that the Mohammed”'s got the academic assistance they needed, as well as family-oriented activities, and mostly importantly, the opportunity to attend college preparatory high schools like Holy Angels for Nathan and DeLaSalle High School for the other four children.

“When Nathan graduated from high school, we started college at the same time,” Naomi recalled. “He went to the University of St. Thomas to study business and I started with one class at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC). I really didn”'t think I could handle any more than that.” Naomi didn”'t know what class to take; she just started. “I think it was a math class,” she said. Naomi received her Associate”'s degree in 2009 in Liberal Arts from MCTC, and then transferred to St. Kate”'s. Nathan wanted to contribute financially to the household so he applied for an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) position at the fire department. He didn”'t get the position but it did peak his interest in medicine. Soon, Nathan transferred to Inver Hills Community College for the paramedic program, and then graduated from Century College at the top of his class. He is now the Health Education Coordinator at Health East in St. Paul.

“I admire [my mother] for all the hard work and effort she put into raising us”¦and I”'m proud of her not being on [financial] support”¦some people abuse the system. She did without it,” said Naomi”'s middle daughter, Abby. Hard work, persistence and vision have turned into five graduates from a family who knows about struggle, adversity and difficulty. But they also know about perseverance and resilience. “This is a huge relief, a big deal, and the kids are proud of all of us”¦ [especially] me for sticking with it,” said Naomi. “I admire Naomi”'s determination for her children and for herself as she completes her college degree. Congratulations Naomi! The entire Banyan Community is proud of your accomplishments,” adds Essenburg. “I think she”'s amazing. She”'s a heroine designated to save our family,” says Naomi”'s youngest daughter, Marissa.


Nathan graduated from Century College

Andrew Mohammed received a massage therapy license in December 2011;

Abby Mohammed is graduating from DeLaSalle High School and plans to attend St. Kate”'s in Fall 2012;

Marissa Mohammed, the youngest,  is graduating from 8th grade at Hope Academy (2300 Chicago Avenue) and will attend DeLaSalle in Fall 2012;

Emelie Mohammed will receive a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Latin from St. Catherine”'s University

Naomi will graduate with the same class on May 20th at St. Catherine”'s University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Women”'s Studies.

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Reader Feedback

One Response to “Sticking with It: Persistence pays off”

  1. Allison Nawracaj says:

    I’ve been very luck to know this family. Every single one of them is a gem. Naomi is one of the strongest women I have ever met! Congratulations to each and every one of them. All of their hard work has paid off. They are all incredible and will do amazing things!

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