“The educated person has a responsibility to the uneducated.”
Julia Nabaa’s leadership philosophy is informed by the first revelation to Muhammad to “read.” Julia interprets this to mean you should “read your environment” and to find ways to make a difference. She reflects that throughout her life she has followed “in the shoes of the African American teachers who were committed to seeing African American kids develop and succeed.”
Julia grew up in Nashville during the Jim Crow era when segregation was running rampant. She and her husband, Clarence, were active in the Civil Rights Movement in Nashville. Julia notes that while they didn’t participate in the protests or sit-ins, they did attend the mass meetings. During this time, they joined the Nation of Islam, “one of the other groups putting pressure on the government” to end segregation.
After a stint in Chicago, they came to South Bend in 1975 to enroll their children in Crescent Muslim School. Julia taught at Crescent until it closed. She then home-schooled her children because at that time South Bend schools were still segregated. When the move to desegregate began, Julia worked on the committee as a parent representative. She wanted to ensure that “neighborhood schools weren’t sacrificed” in the rush to desegregate. As a parent representative, Julia observed that she could “be in the midst of things” and see firsthand what was happening.
Julia’s commitment to providing education for everyone continued through The Communicator, a newspaper she and Clarence founded and published. The Communicator focused on positive issues and events impacting African Americans in the South Bend area. One of Julia’s key goals with the paper’s emphasis on positivity, was to provide an alternative to the prevalence of negative news stories about African Americans that tended to dominate news stories of the time.
Julia also joined the staff of Hansel Neighborhood Service Center as a teacher in the program for two-year-old children. During her tenure, she advanced to being named a principal teacher, an administrative position equivalent to being the director of the center. Julia took the kids on various cultural field trips where she noticed that they “saw every ethnic group” represented except African American. This lack of representation motivated her to begin offering “African programs” covering topics such as African queens and kings, Kwanzaa, and African history, amongst others. Through these programs, Julia found ways not only to expose the children to their history but also to get them actively involved in fashion shows, productions, and other community offerings.
After her retirement, Julia operated a day care center out of her home for nearly ten years. Upon closing it, she joined the South Bend Community School Corporation as a special education paraprofessional for ten years. Currently, she is working on publishing the materials she created for her African programs. She continues to advocate that “everyone should continue their education and give back to the community.”
Information compiled from oral history collected by The Michiana Women Leaders Project
Julia was a 2018 CMWL honoree.