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A heart of service and fueled by purpose

By J.S. Adams | Contributing Writer | Last updated: Nov 5, 2019 - 7:33:08 PM

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One occasion in New York would produce a few tears, and greatly impact Kamelah Muhammad’s life. “I just wanted to create a moment, or a space for young women as well as their moms to come and just have a day where we treated them ... and make them feel good, make them feel special,” Ms. Muhammad said.

She and her nonprofit team, “Sisterhood of the Traveling Heart,” worked tirelessly to create that space. They gathered clothes, recruited make-up artists, hair stylists and choreographers to create an environment these women—who were either homeless or living below the poverty line—would never forget. 

Ms. Muhammad and her team treated participants to a shopping experience, had professional volunteers come in and do the women’s make up, helped them to create a vision board, and allowed them to dance. 

“The young girls and their moms who came, they actually did an impromptu fashion show. I literally cried because I was like, ‘Wow!’ They just felt so good. They had their makeup done, had new clothes, were dancing and you know, they just did a whole fashion show,” Ms. Muhammad said. 

At the time, her organization was in its early stages, and had not yet become what it would be. But this event would put “Sisterhood of the Traveling Heart,” on its destined trajectory.

“I had a mom who literally left the event in tears and was like, my daughter really needed this, and she was like God bless you, and she was just crying,” shared Ms. Muhammad.

She realized she had to keep her efforts. That was the first event, but it set the tone for the organization.

 A heart of service

Before that defining event in New York, Ms. Muhammad, 33, always knew she had a heart of service.  “I always like to think my life is about purpose. I’ve always had a giving spirit and the desire to help others, and I can attribute that to my parents and my upbringing and foundation in the [Nation of Islam],” she shared.

Ms. Muhammad gained a better understanding of her desire to help others and started the Sisterhood of the Traveling Heart in 2014, a nonprofit organization geared towards uplifting young women. “The goal was to empower, but also promote beauty and self-confidence among these young women,” she explained. 

With a background in marketing, Ms. Muhammad’s organization largely centers around events and creating one of a kind experiences for her guests. Part of this includes centering women in a positive environment, where they could not only feel good about themselves, but also have a life-changing impact on one another. 

Women have so many experiences, journeys, challenges and obstacles we face and “so I think we just need more outlets and more empowering environments for us to be heard or share our stories, to just be able to come together and uplift each other,” she explained. 

In New York, Ms. Muhammad got her foot in the door by partnering with various organizations that work with young women who are homeless or survivors of domestic violence.  She wanted to help inspire and strengthen these women, which is evident in the organization’s title.

“I like to think of my organization as this journey among young women. So the name just represents the sisterhood ultimately,” she said. “The traveling heart is just a way to connect in all of our journeys and all of our stories to continue to empower one another, inspire one another, be there for one another.”

The Big Apple to the Windy City

Kamelah Muhammad came to New York by way of Chicago, where she was born and raised. After putting on her first event, she returned to Chicago and put on another event that she’s done in other places, a “prom experience,” for high school students. 

“What I realized is that during the first year of my organization, I was doing a prom donation drive, and giving the dresses and suits and ties and you realize that some of these kids don’t have a prom to really go to or if they did, they didn’t feel inspired to go because of their circumstances,” Ms. Muhammad said.

Similar to her efforts in New York, she gathered professional volunteers to give youth in Chicago the best prom they’d ever had. This included every element of a memorable prom, including: formal tables, DJs, a prom cake and photo backdrop. “We even had so many donations come in with dresses and one of the local tuxedo shops actually donated tuxedos for all of the guys—tuxedos and shoes. We had barbers and hairstylists come to do hair for free, make up for free ... .  It was just a community thing.”

This event put Sisterhood of the Traveling Heart on the map—news outlets including ABC News and the Huffington Post covered the organization. 

“For me to be able to do this event and share this story with the world, I was just like ... these are the types of things that keep me going,” Ms. Muhammad said.

Going global 

After working within the United States for years, Ms. Muhammad took her work to the next level. She had the opportunity to bring it to the Caribbean nation of Haiti.

The idea to go to Haiti was born out of a celebration. This year marks Ms. Muhammad’s 10th year as a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. She and her sorority sisters wanted to take a meaningful trip that would include sisterhood activities and service. 


‘Women have so many experiences, journeys, challenges and obstacles we face, and so I think we just need more outlets and more empowering environments for us to be heard or share our stories, to just be able to come together and uplift each other.’

When they were trying to determine where to travel to celebrate, leave a legacy and provide service in the community, the women decided on Haiti. The family of one of Ms. Muhammad Delta sisters is from Haiti, she explained. 

“Her family invited us to come and we said absolutely yes. We just thought it would be the perfect opportunity to show the other side of Haiti that people do not see in the media … . We thought it would be awesome to just change the narrative of how people see Haiti, especially with all that comes of it in the media, in a negative standpoint.”

Before embarking on their five-day trip, Ms. Muhammad and her Delta sisters detailed where they would go and how they would help. “We identified three service initiatives, and we worked directly with my sorority sister and her family to identify the need versus us imposing what we felt the people of Haiti needed,” she said. “I think that’s important for people to know because especially as Americans, I feel like we impose a lot.”

The first part of their initiative was to renovate a library by partnering with a local school.

“While we were there this time around, we were able to repaint the whole library. We donated books. We also provided new landscaping and just spruced it up a little more with different supplies,” Ms. Muhammad said. 

“It was so cute because some of the girls from the school saw us in there painting, so they came in there and hung out with us and they started coloring so we included their pictures on the wall and they loved that.”

Another initiative was to provide first aid to a part of Haiti that suffered heavily from illnesses.

“This community in particular is about an hour away from the nearest hospital or doctors, so we found that a lot of people there had gotten major infections or even passed away because there was no urgent care or just the basic needs to sustain life alone,” she said. “We collected and purchased supplies and created a first aid supply station.”

Lastly, they provided sustainable education on feminine hygiene. “Having your cycle is pretty taboo in countries like Haiti, especially if you do not have the privilege of [certain] items. We were able to do a pad party where we actually handmade reusable pads and presented them to the women there,” Ms. Muhammad said.

All of the initiatives that they started in Haiti are ongoing, and didn’t just end with their trip there, Ms. Muhammad said. They also have a goal to turn the feminine hygiene initiative into an economic one, that would in turn, create jobs. 

Fueled by purpose

Ms. Muhammad plans to continue her work and take it to new heights. She loves seeing the impact of the work she’s been blessed to do and how people respond to her efforts. “Even if I think it’s little, you know, they see it as a great thing. I am sometimes kind of  hard on myself because it’s like I want to do more. But, I have to understand that God is positioning me, and that what I am doing is a start and for right now, it is enough because I am obviously striving to do more,” she said.

With everything she does, Ms. Muhammad is fueled by a purpose that pulls her. She has a clear direction and goal and knows exactly what she wants to accomplish in her life.  “I feel like a lot of my work in life is primarily with youth,” she shared. 

“Understanding that I need to be an influence on young women because they are the future. Being able to share my experience with them as an adult woman, and being able to empower them, I think to me that’s the ultimate goal. To help shape the course of their life or empower them to be better, or be the best version of themselves. That’s what I want to accomplish in my life.”

Kamelah Muhammad and her sorority sisters documented their journey to Haiti in a documentary called “DeSTination Haiti: Creating a New Narrative.” It was released on October 28 and can be viewed online at