At age 20, Nayirah Muhammad was the youngest of the 55-member Alabama delegation at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia.
Muhammad, a rising junior at Fisk University in Tennessee, was elected by the state delegation to replace a Bernie Sanders delegate who did not attend the convention. She won the majority of the votes.
“To be elected as a delegate meant that I was taking part of a revolution,” Muhammad said. “Sen. Sanders opened our eyes and fighting for a more progressive party is one of the many victories of the revolution. Seeing Sanders, the Obamas and Hillary Clinton all gave me hope for my future.”
Prior to the convention, the John Carroll graduate had been involved in many academic endeavors, including the Honda Campus All Star Challenge and served as a student guide at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. However, she counts attending the DNC as an event that “changed her life.”
She saw the speakers as her heroes and in her words “I felt that they were all in some form speaking directly to me as a 20-year-old who has goals of changing this country.”
Muhammad was able to make the trip with the help of Jarralynne Agee, a candidate for Alabama State School Board who is also a graduate of Fisk University. Agee attended college with Muhammad’s father Maurice, a Bessemer City Magistrate.
Agee said she met Muhammad at a picnic. “I was only at the picnic for a few moments when I told her parents that I could use his daughter’s help,” Agee said. “Her mother, Fanchon, the principal of Woodlawn High School, had her in my office the following Monday.”
Through her internship with Agee, Muhammad worked on writings that included press releases, speeches and documents that contributed to the roll out of Birmingham’s initiatives to reduce violence.
“It became clear to me that Nayirah could be an asset to a larger effort in mobilizing young people and students,” Agee said. “The decision to make arrangements for Nayirah to come with me to Philadelphia was an easy one.”
The decision to invite Nayirah was easy but getting her to the DNC was a challenge.
One of the first barriers was getting funding. Many generous donors contributed to Muhammad’s trip. A second barrier was securing credentials. Agee was able to use her connections to obtain a credential for Monday night.
Little did anyone know that Monday night would be so important for Nayriah.
Agee said, “On the way to our first flight, I found that Nayirah was a steadfast Sanders supporter.”
Agee who was a pledged Clinton delegate told Muhammad that Sanders would be the final speaker on the opening night.
Nayirah was excited to attend as the movement created by Sanders and the young organizers that she knew around the country had inspired her.
The DNC was an emotional journey for the 20-year-old.
“I was crying the whole time, because I could see the dreams of my heroes coming true right in front of my eyes,” Muhammad said.