East Mecklenburg teacher has background in Chinese, Islam
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Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014

East Mecklenburg teacher has background in Chinese, Islam

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- KATYA LEZIN
Aprill Yakubu stands in front of a map of the China in her classroom at East Mecklenburg High School.

Aprill Yakubu, 39, has many roots in the Charlotte community.

She was born and raised in Charlotte, and her ancestors, former slaves, are “buried right off of Providence Road,” she said.

She graduated from Olympic High School in 1992 and UNC Charlotte in 1999, earning a master’s in curriculum supervision in 2011. She lives in Steele Creek has taught at West Charlotte High School and joined the staff at East Mecklenburg High School this year.

But you would be mistaken if you assumed this Charlotte native never left the area.

Yakubu, a Muslim who wears the traditional headscarf and garb, teaches Chinese and Bible history. She is married to a Muslim whom she met while both were teaching at the International School of Creative Sciences in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, but her conversion to Islam predates meeting her husband.

“I’m a big surprise,” Yakubu said. “I would describe myself as eccentric and open-minded.”

Part of the surprise about Yakubu is that her travels and enigmatic aspects of her life – a Muslim teaching about the Bible; an African-American Charlotte native fluent in Chinese and enamored of the Chinese culture – also have roots in Charlotte.

Yakubu attended Independence High School before moving to Olympic her junior year. While at Independence, Yakubu took the first Chinese class offered in the history of North Carolina.

“Everybody else was taking Spanish and French,” Yakubu said. “I wanted to be different.”

Yakubu loved the Chinese culture and “the way things are said and done and how old everything was.”

She switched to German when she transferred to Olympic, then studied both at Saint Andrews College in Laurinburg, N.C., and at UNCC, where she earned a degree in history in 1999.

While at UNCC, she was given the opportunity to study in Beijing for a semester at Capital Normal University.

After her graduation, Yakubu worked as a paralegal in Ohio and then in Florida, “but it wasn’t my calling,” she said.

She was in Florida on Sept. 11, 2001, teaching comparative religion.

“I wanted to be fair to Islam” after the events of 9/11, she said, “so I went to the bookstore and bought a Quran.”

She read the first chapter and started sobbing; she converted that day.

A friend told her about teaching opportunities in Dubai, and Yakubu, recently divorced and ready for a change, decided the time was right. She served as Director of Humanities at the International School of Creative Science, where she met her second husband, Haruna Yakubu, 35, a teacher from Ghana. Yakubu and her husband have two children: Muhsin, 3, and Hava, 1.

When her contract in Dubai ended, Yakubu decided to move back to Charlotte. She loves teaching at East Mecklenburg High. “It’s a family,” she said. “They really care about you and embrace you.”

Yakubu teaches world history and sociology in addition to Chinese and Bible history.

“It makes me feel good as a Muslim that they trust me to teach the Bible,” she said. “I want the students to learn that it is a living document and they should read it.”

She currently teaches only one class of Chinese 1, but she hopes to ratchet up to Chinese 5. “I need to grow the program with the students,” she said.

All her students have been “very respectful and curious,” she said.

Yakubu said that some of the parents didn’t know what to make of her at first, but they now tell her what a good job she is doing.

Yakubu knows she is opening minds with her presence. “I tell students that there is a face and mind behind the veil,” she said.

Katya Lezin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Katya? Email her at bowserwoof@mindspring.com.

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