A life influenced by strong women helped shape Aminah Hamidullah into a community leader
FEB 01, 2021 AT 5:00 AM
Shining a Light: A series of stories for Black History Month highlighting people making a difference today in Central Florida’s Black community.
“I am not built to break,” says the graceful woman with chestnut-brown skin and a smile that lightens the mood of the rooms she enters. Aminah Hamidullah is a natural leader, born in Jamaica, she moved to the Sunshine State in 1964 and was raised in towns across Florida, including Tampa, Quincy and Tallahassee.
When her husband, Imam Hatim Hamidullah, accepted a position at the Masjid Al-Haqq in the historic Parramore community of Orlando in 2003, Aminah relocated with him from Atlanta. She began to prepare meals for the mosque, which led to passing out extra food to homeless people living in the neighborhood. Eventually, other Muslims joined in to help, and the service project grew.
While feeding the homeless was valuable, Hamidullah understood that food feeds the body for only a day, but she sought to nourish people’s minds and souls for a lifetime. As a result, Hamidulllah and her husband founded Knowledge for Living, an organization dedicated to providing quality education to underprivileged communities. KFL offers classes for individuals and families about nutrition, marriage, reading, computers and finance.
Hamidullah’s leadership skills came to her naturally, as she grew up with strong female influences. Her independent, hard-working Jamaican mother held at least three jobs and shaped her daughter’s strong work ethic and sense of community. Lucilla Samuel worked at the hospital and made pottery to sell locally.
“She actually had everybody on our street grow a garden and grow something different. At harvest they separated and shared the food,” said Hamidullah.
Grandmother Minnie Jones, also an entrepreneur, taught Hamidullah how to design and sew clothing at The Sewing Factory, a business Jones owned and operated in Quincy in the Florida panhandle. Hamidullah acquired cooking skills from her grandmother, as well.
“When she made a cake, my cousins and I would have to name every ingredient,” she remembers. “Whoever could recite them all would get to lick the pan, and I won. I was very competitive.”
In college at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, a conflict arose in Hamidullah’s first class with Dr. Sybil Mobley, then dean of the School of Business and Industry. Hamidullah had an 8 a.m. class, but she was not an 8 a.m. student. Through strict yet thoughtful interaction with her mentor, Hamidullah learned a valuable lesson and added discipline to her skillset.
“Now,” she says, “I’m an on-time person.”
She paired the skills taught by her mother and grandmother with the scholarship and Black-centric lessons of FAMU to forge success in corporate America. From supervisor of a McDonald’s corporate sales team to adjunct professor in the School of Business and Industry at the University of South Florida and vice president of a branch of Bank of America in Atlanta, Hamidullah grew as a leader.
She closely identifies with her favorite person, Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery to become one of the most famous “conductors” on the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War, she was the only female to command troops for the Union Army. Later, Tubman dedicated her life to helping impoverished former slaves and the elderly.
“She just made things happen,” Hamidullah said, of Tubman’s self-sacrifice and generous spirit. “She was fearless, and if something needed to be done, she made it happen.”
Hamidullah also gets things done, even in unusual circumstances — inspiration for a KFL program to help girls who wanted to attend college, struck at a decidedly unexpected time.
“Ten years ago, when I attended my mother’s funeral, four separate women asked if I was Lucilla Samuel’s daughter,” she said. They made a point to tell Hamidullah how her mother had sent them to college because their families couldn’t afford it.
“It was so touching, I started a girls scholarship program because I wanted to be able to do what she did,” said Hamidullah. “She saw a need and she fulfilled it.”
Aminah can be reached at Knowledge for Living, 430B S. Parramore Ave. in Orlando; 321-444-5998; knowledgeforliving.org
Willie J. Allen Jr. is a staff photojournalist at the Orlando Sentinel. He studied photojournalism at San Francisco State University and joined the Sentinel team in 2020 after working at the Tampa Bay Times. He finds beauty in the everyday and hopes to magnify diverse voices for our readers. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Instagram @soulportraits.