Third in a series
Hakeem Oufkir’s teachers at East Mecklenburg High say he’s ready for success in a world that’s constantly shrinking.
His father is a Muslim from Morocco. His mom is a Catholic from Colombia. And his best friend is Jewish.
“That cultural diversity was really important for (our family),” said Oufkir, who speaks four languages and is Muslim. “I think it gave us a balanced view of the world.”
Oufkir has more than a rich cultural background going for him, teachers say.
“His work ethic, his insatiable curiosity about the world, and a sense of humor that can disarm a potentially touchy situation – it’s an amazing combination,” says Heather LaJoie, coordinator of the International Baccalaureate program at East Mecklenburg.
“There are kids who are drawn to achieve,” said chemistry teacher Heather Hays. “Hakeem is driven to know ‘why?’ ”
Oufkir, who is headed to Wake Forest University with a prestigious Joseph G. Gordon Scholarship, credits that curiosity to his upbringing, which he says spurred an interest in what makes the world work.
His father, Rachid, and mother, Beatriz, moved separately to the United States and met at a club. They were divorced a year after Hakeem and his twin brother Abdoullah were born, but the twins spent time growing up with each parent.
The brothers grew up mostly in Charlotte, but say they learned a lot about both of their parents’ cultures.
“Not many people have a background like that,” says Abdoullah, himself an outstanding student who will attend N.C. State University in the fall.
The brothers spent most of the time living with their father in Charlotte. Hakeem says he and his brother were given a choice of which religion to choose, and they both became Muslims.
Growing up in the decade after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the brothers occasionally heard criticism of their faith.
Abdoullah Oufkir says his brother will try to educate those who say something negative about Islam, but he knows when to pick the times.
“He has the ability to size people up,” Abdoullah says. “If he can help clear up a misconception, he will. But if he knows the other person isn’t going to change his mind, Hakeem won’t start a confrontation.”
Hakeem says there are many ways to educate. He describes an incident when he and another Muslim student from East Mecklenburg were distributing bottled water to homeless men near the men’s shelter on North Tryon Street. The other student handed a bottle to a man, who initially refused.
“She insisted that the man take it,” Hakeem recalls. “The man finally said, ‘I guess not all of you are bad.’
“That was a beautiful moment – a moment when we made a difference.”
But Oufkir says his faith “is not all of who I am.”
At Tuesday’s graduation ceremonies, he likely will be salutatorian and will share the stage with his best friend, valedictorian Ethan Levine.
LaJoie says Oufkir “comes across as a normal kid. He’s like any of the other students. But he’s not.”
With his cultural background, Oufkir speaks English, Arabic, French and Spanish. He would like to learn more languages, possibly Mandarin or Russian. He’ll have a chance to do that at Wake Forest. The Gordon scholarship, which is similar to UNC’s Morehead award, pays for four years of schooling and summer enrichment opportunities.
Hakeem isn’t yet sure about his eventual career. He’s considering medicine.
LaJoie laughs when she’s asked the question.
“He might be a political leader, or the leader of some type of movement,” she said. “Or he might be a scientist who makes a major discovery. But it won’t be small.”
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