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A Model For Resilience And Perseverance: Nation Of Islam Student Minister’s Path To A Ph.D.

By Rhodesia Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Jun 3, 2016 - 6:05:31 PM

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Min. Robert with degree.
Young Robert McMillan was a senior in high school when his guidance counselor refused to fill out his college application paperwork, telling him he wasn’t “college material.” Now, he has earned his doctorate degree conferred in Urban Planning and Environmental Policy where he graduated May 14 from the Barbara Jordan - George “Mickey” Leland School of Public Affairs of Texas Southern University.

Growing up in New York, he read the Muhammad Speaks Newspaper that always covered his grandmother’s coffee table. She lived around the corner from Muhammad Mosque No. 7, so he was very familiar with the Muslim followers of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Minister Malcolm X and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan were “living legends to many people because the Muslims were strong in Harlem and New York City” said Southwest Student Regional Minister Dr. Robert Muhammad of the Nation of Islam. “My Godfather and I listened to Minister Farrakhan on the radio.”

Raised in the Catholic Church, Student Minister Robert began studying Islam in college in 1974. He accepted Islam in 1975 at Mosque No. 10 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. However, he became disenchanted because he joined the movement during the time it had fallen after the departure of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. “When the Nation of Islam fell, like many of us … I fell,” he said.

“It was 40 years ago that I first met the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan in April 1976 before he began to rebuild the work of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad,” he reminisced. He was a college student at Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) in Virginia working toward his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science when Min. Farrakhan came to his campus. Student Minister Robert spoke of the excitement he felt being the only Muslim member of the University’s Student Government Association (SGA). “I was humbled to get to spend two days with him. In that time, I got the opportunity to dine with him. I got to spend time with a man that walks the earth with humility and was so kind to the students. He played the violin for us and answered all the questions that anybody had. What I realized is that he is as great a listener as he is an orator,” he added. “So the experience from those two days left a great impact on me and led to what was to come in my life.”

In 1980, two years after graduation, he moved to Houston, Texas. He married his college sweetheart in 1981 and is the father of four sons. He reconnected with the Muslims after seeing Minister Farrakhan on television urging people to support the presidential candidacy of Reverend Jesse Jackson. “I was shocked to realize there was bow tie-wearing-clean-cut, Nation of Islam Muslims again. At that time, I had no intentions of rejoining the mosque. I just went to support Jesse Jackson and that’s where I met the brothers of Muhammad Mosque No. 45,” he continued. Subsequently, he rejoined the Mosque (Study Group at that time) in Houston in the summer of 1984 and received his “X” in March 1986. On July 1, 1987, Minister Farrakhan had appointed him the Student Minister of Mosque No. 45. He received his holy name, Muhammad, in September of the same year. Seven years later, April 1, 1994, he became the Student Minister over the Southwest region.

On April 15, 2016, Student Minister Robert successfully defended his dissertation, titled, “A Planners Pyramid Equity-Based Model for Resilience in Community Redevelopment.” He graduated with a Ph.D.

He wanted to find additional tools and skill sets to help his people and serve his Nation, so he decided in 2003 to pursue the study of urban planning at Texas Southern University. “When I thought of urban planning, it reminded me of the Scripture Isaiah 61:4 that speaks of rebuilding and restoring wasted cities,” said Student Minister Robert, “and we’re about to embark upon building a Nation and I believe that urban planning/city planning, engineering, architecture … these are skills that will be needed in building an independent nation.”

On April 15, 2016, Student Minister Robert successfully defended his dissertation, titled, “A Planners Pyramid Equity-Based Model for Resilience in Community Redevelopment.” A dissertation is a long piece of writing on a particular subject that is done to earn a doctorate. “My research involved an equity based sustainable redevelopment planning model in the context of extraordinary events (X-Events), such as natural disasters and man-made hazards, such as war, terrorism, chemical, nuclear, and biological accidents,” Student Minister Robert added. “I developed a model to plan for these events and their aftermath, the process and the results would be fair, just and equal to the most vulnerable segments of the population in order for society to bounce back or bounce forward. Equity is the capstone of a security, safety, economy and environment based pyramid.”

Student Minister Robert expressed the challenges he encountered in completing his doctorate, which entailed developing the concept of the planners pyramid and getting his committee to understand what he was hypothesizing. “It boils down to how do we plan for and how do we redevelop after Xevents, such as 911, Hurricane Katrina, the Great Recession, recent floods in Houston, Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast, fires and drought on the West Coast, and any of those things that you know are natural disasters” he added.

“In other words, what I found most difficult was trying to develop a planning model for the Fall of America.” He went on to explain that X-events are highly impactful, long lasting events that take place and is very difficult to prepare for. Yet, what he attempted to show was that if a system, or a city, or an organization wants to be resilient, which is to bounce back or to bounce forward from such disaster, it is important that the benefits and the burdens be distributed equitably, fairly, and justly, because without fairness, without justice, and without equity, there is no capacity to bounce back or to bounce forward, he explained.

Although the challenges in pursuing his degree were great, he felt he would be remiss in his duty if he didn’t share the benefits in receiving his degree. He said the most exhilarating part for him was setting out to accomplish a goal and actually accomplishing it. “Many of us have dreams and visions and we never even attempt to fulfill them,” he stated. “But I would say to anyone who is seeking to pursue a degree or a business venture, or some accomplishment in life, it matters not how many degrees we have, how much money we make, or how famous we become, if we don’t have character, if we don’t develop character, we have nothing. So, if you continue to pursue your dreams and your visions of life … be sure to continue to develop your own personal character and integrity,” encouraged Student Minister Robert.

“I want to extend my gratitude to my family, the Believers, and the community who sacrificed much to allow me to achieve this accomplishment. I express my sincere gratitude to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan for his patience and encouragement in furthering my education.” When Student Minister Dr. Robert Muhammad was asked how he will use his degree, he responded, “I want to help the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan make the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s word bond. It’s Nation time!”