Editor's note: This story was submitted by the University of Dearborn.
Ahmad Rahman picked up his first history textbook and sifted through a couple pages.
A few more chapters and Rahman was hooked.
“It never seemed like work for me to learn history when I was a teenager,” he said. “History was always my hobby.”
Over the past decade, Rahman has injected that same sense of passion into the classroom at University of Michigan-Dearborn.
The Michigan Council for the Social Studies took notice and named Rahman the 2013 College Professor of the Year. The UM-Dearborn associate professor of history will be honored Saturday at the Michigan Joint Social Studies Conference in Lansing.
“I have been so immersed with what I was trying to do with social studies and history in Detroit that I wasn’t really evaluating myself in this sense,” he said.
His research focuses on black globalist movements, the history of black power and civil rights movements, as well as slavery in Africa and the American south.
But his impact goes far beyond UM-Dearborn.
Rahman worked with Detroit Public Schools (DPS) to implement online modules that allow teachers to inject African and African American history into their curriculum.
“There was no money for new books, so my suggestion was to create digital books that we can put online,” said Rahman, who credited Sheryl Jones, director of the DPS Office of Social Studies, for her leadership. “Sheryl had the vision and found the resources to make possible the work I did, teamed with some highly-motivated Detroit history and social studies teachers.”
Many DPS teachers embraced the idea and implemented the modules into their own curriculum. He also encouraged DPS teachers to utilize the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit for various social studies lessons.
“I firmly believe that you can impact the lives of young people by informing them about history,” Rahman said. “If we want young people to project positive values among themselves, we have to give them a positive idea of who they are, as well as some background about their history and culture.”
Rahman also worked as a program coordinator with the Washtenaw County Intermediate School District’s Program for Homeless Youth, where he counseled at-risk youth by encouraging them to express themselves through poems, raps and short stories.
And he recently received a community-based research grant to launch Cyberdad, which offers a unique approach to mentoring Detroit’s at-risk youth. The program equips male volunteers with phones, then distributes their number to local fatherless youth. Cyberdad encourages these young adults to contact one of their volunteer fathers for advice.
“This award comes as no surprise to me. I have been hearing my professional contacts in DPS and at the Wright Museum singing Dr. Rahman’s praises for quite some time,” said Martin Hershock, dean of UMD's College of Arts, Sciences and Letters.
“I had the privilege of seeing his ability to connect with the K-12 community in person a few years back when Professor Rahman helped lead the UM-Dearborn Teaching American History Grant partnership with the Inkster Public Schools.
"That he is being recognized for his skills speaks volumes about his commitment to the idea of being a public intellectual and his ability to move a history that is most often absent from our standard narrative to the forefront," Hershock said.
Rahman earned both master’s and doctoral degrees in history from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He authored The Regime Change of Kwame Nkrumah: Epic Heroism in Africa and the Diaspora, which focuses on the man who led Ghana to become Africa’s first sub-Saharan country to gain independence after World War II.
Rahman also is finishing up a book based on Michigan’s chapter of the Black Panther Party.