More than 400 students, professors, politicians, community leaders, civil rights activists, artists, and friends and family came out to honor respected elder, great historian, and community activist Mahmoud El-Kati… More than 400 students, professors, politicians, community leaders, civil rights activists, artists, and friends and family came out to honor respected elder, great historian, and community activist Mahmoud El-Kati at his retirement celebration after nearly 30 years in the History Department at Macalester College in St. Paul.
El-Kati, who is 66, said he prefers the word “transition” versus “retirement” since retirement implies he won’t be working. While he didn’t provide any specifics, El-Kati said he has plenty on his plate to keep him busy.
“I can’t really retire. I know that when people reach 60 they are supposed to slow down. I don’t feel any different now than I did 20 years ago. My energy level is just as high,” said El-Kati who intends to remain very active in the community.
El-Kati has had a tremendous teaching career at Macalester and throughout Minnesota. His classes, including “Introduction to Africa,” “African American Folklore,” “Studying Social Movements,” “Sports in the African American Community,” and others were always among the most sought after by students of all cultures.
He has been a guest lecturer and/or adjunct professor at several colleges, including the University of Minnesota, St. Cloud State, St. Thomas, Gustavus Adolphus, and the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse. He was instrumental in the founding of the Black Studies Department at the University of Minnesota leading the way for other colleges and universities nation-wide to follow suit. El-Kati, for 10 years, has also taught a first period history class at North High School in Minneapolis.
“Ultimately, I wanted my students to become an informed voice. I tried to give them information that was not generally known that could provide them with new insight into the American drama. In the end, I hoped that they would come out on the right side‹the side of social justice,” he said.
El-Kati was born in Savannah, Ga., grew up in Miami, Fl. (with many summers in New York), and graduated from Wilberforce College in 1960 with a double major in history and sociology. Wilberforce, located in Ohio, is one of the great African American colleges. Following his heart, El-Kati moved to Minnesota in 1963.
“I came for love and I stayed because I met some real, committed, concerned people of all races here. Back in the day, we had a good circle of activists here,” said El-Kati who has witnessed, or been a part of, the creation of numerous programs in the Twin Cities, including The Way, Pilot City, Model Cities, Organization of Industrial Centers (OIC), African American Studies Departments, and more.
El-Kati actually began his teaching career as the Educational Director for The Way, Inc. a socially-active community center in Minneapolis where he taught classes on Black History for youth and adults. The Way, Inc. was also active with job creation, prison programs, affordable housing, social protests, and other issues that affected Black people. Through The Way, El-Kati began what he calls “one of the richest experiences” he has had by teaching for 20 years in Minnesota’s prisons.
El-Kati said that his nearly three-decade run with Macalester College has been “wonderful and enriching” because of his strong relationships with his students and colleagues. However, his biggest disappointment is having watched the enrollment of Black students dwindle at the college. In the late 1960s, early 1970s, the college instituted the Expanded Educational Opportunities Program that brought 75 African American students and other marginalized people to the school each year for several years in a row. At one point, Macalester had one of the highest percentages of Black students in the country at 14 percent.
“It was a tremendous period of hope and expectation. Students were recruited from all over the country from big cities and small co