Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Yusuf Ali El with student

UNH degree: Bachelor's, sociology
Lives in: Northwest Indiana

What advice would you give to current UNH students of color, or any students, based on what you learned while at UNH, and what you've learned from life after college?
My advice is this. Be a bridge builder. Be a peacemaker. Be a facilitator of friendships. Stay in touch with those who mean much to you even if you have to initiate the contact time after time. "Do unto yourself as you would have others do unto you." In other words, treat yourself the way you want to be treated. Do not expect anyone to treat you better than you treat yourself; do not allow anyone to treat you as poorly as you treat yourself. Be your own BFF. Do not make yourself promises you know you are not going to keep. And whatever you do, do not be so true to someone else that you wind up cheating on yourself.

What are your proudest achievements since graduating from UNH?
In 1985, I addressed the World Conference of Mayors in Paradise Island in The Bahamas. My most significant undertaking since graduation was proclaiming my Moorish American nationality on June 15, 1979 and subsequently correcting my name from Joe H. Mitchell to Yusuf Ali El. I did not change my name, I corrected my name. Getting my master's degree in language and literature in 1974 was a pretty big deal for me.

What organizations were you involved with during your UNH years?
I was involved with the BSU (Black Student Union).

What were some of your accomplishments as a student here at UNH, and as a pioneering black student at UNH?
My greatest accomplishment was meeting people more than 40 years ago who are in attendance [at the April 26 Hall of Fame induction ceremony], some who I've seen a few times in more than 40 years, some I haven't seen for more than 40 years, and am thrilled to see today. As a wise man recently stated, "you can choose your family." There are people here today with whom I've been family for decades. So, you see, you don't just choose your friends; you also choose your family, and we have chosen to be family. My minor achievements were graduating Magna Cum Laude, Pi Gamma Mu, Phi Beta Kappa. These are fondly counted as stellar UNH moments for me.

What is one of your favorite UNH memories?
Graduating in 1972.

Who were your role models and/or mentors while here at UNH, and how did they impact your life?
My mentor, Ismail M. Hurreh, a writer from Somalia, was an instructor at UNH during my years here. I do not recall how we met, but I do remember that Ismail was a poet. I was not a poet yet; at that time I was a mere writer of poems. The title of "poet" was yet to be bestowed upon me. Ismail was eight years my senior; his words of encouragement carried great weight. I, as young Asiatic man who wrote poetry, was looked upon with disdain by some of the other brothers. I concluded they were jealous, for the women loved my verse. Still I found no Asiatic male confidante outside of Ismail. Brother Ismail read, liked, critiqued and encouraged my work. He spoke of the significance of the poetry and the poetry as instruments of change and not mere recorders of the status quo. He said my style was unique and advised me to continue to write what I wanted and not what I thought was wanted. I trust I've kept that advice alive, even though the pressure of conformity often haunts my pen. Ismail honored me by penning the introduction to my first book of poems, One Room Shack. I trust I've honored him by staying true to my muse.

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    Staff writer | Communications and Public Affairs