'Huge experience for the kids': Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad inspires Islamic school students

The excitement was palpable Thursday when Ibtihaj Muhammad walked into Islamic Foundation School and mosque in Villa Park - among not only its 550 students but also parents, employees and community members who welcomed the Olympian. The 2016 Olympic bronze medalist in sabre fencing gave a talk before the entire school community, followed by a book signing of her children's titles, “The Proudest Blue” and “The Kindest Red.”

The students were in wide-eyed awe of her charisma.

“All week their teachers must have been talking up this event,” said Rabia Hussain of Oak Brook, whose three children attend the preschool-through-12th-grade school. “My son wants to be a fencer now,” she said of her first-grader, Idris, 6.

Parent and academic counselor Linda Qatanani of Norridge said Muhammad talks about herself as a normal person, and everyone, including her three children, was impressed by her work ethic.

“She is so humble,” she said.

Muhammad is the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab, or headscarf, while competing for the United States in the Olympics. While she is an inspiration for Muslim girls worldwide, “boys were just as excited to see her,” said Ruby Ramirez, the school's director of communication and special projects.

Parent Ambreen Qureshi of Itasca said her 8-year-old daughter Hanifa, a second-grader at the school, was inspired by Muhammad.

“She can't believe she got to meet her,” Qureshi said. “It's a huge experience for the kids.”

Principal Farhat Siddiqui said bringing Muhammad to the school was a coup, and part of the school leadership's efforts to promote literacy and reading. Muhammad's story of overcoming challenges and biases to excel in her profession was inspiring to students, she said.

“Her perseverance is what is commendable,” Siddiqui said. “That resilience is what we want to nurture in our students.”

MLK bobblehead

The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum today unveiled the first Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talking bobblehead.

The special-edition, 8-inch-tall bobblehead features the civil rights leader dressed in a dark suit, standing at the podium delivering his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech in front of multiple microphones. It includes audio clips of King's 16-minute speech.

Its base bears King's name along with the date - Aug. 28, 1963 - he delivered the speech to a crowd of about 250,000 attending the March on Washington.

The Milwaukee-based National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum on Monday unveiled the first Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talking bobblehead. Courtesy of National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum

King's actions helped get the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, outlawing types of discrimination. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

“We are proud to release the first talking bobblehead of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as we commemorate his life and legacy on MLK Day,” said Phil Sklar, co-founder and CEO of the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum. “Dr. King is one of the most frequently requested when it comes to bobbleheads, and we're thrilled to team up with his estate to provide people with the opportunity to honor and celebrate his life with this bobblehead.”

The bobbleheads are expected to ship in April. Each costs $40 plus a flat-rate $8 shipping fee per order. It is available only through the museum's online store at

Honoring Ali

Illinois' second observance of Muhammad Ali Day is Tuesday.

The holiday was established last year through the Muslim Civic Coalition's efforts getting the state legislature to pass a resolution celebrating America's champ and his legacy as a fighter in the boxing ring and for civic justice.

To commemorate the day, the group is hosting a free screening of the documentary “Ali's Comeback: The Untold Story” at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the DuSable Black History Museum, 740 E. 56th Place, Chicago.

The film tells the story of Ali's exile from boxing due to his stance against the Vietnam War, and the diverse group of people who supported him to ensure he received a fair fight.

“This is precisely why we established Muhammad Ali Day,” said Maaria Mozaffar, the coalition's director of advocacy and policy. “We wanted kids to see an example of hard work, conviction and sometimes lonely patriotism. We wanted them to never cower for standing up for their convictions. All champions one day have to make this choice like Ali did. We want the kids of Illinois to be champions in their own way.”

State Comptroller Susana Mendoza and Art Jones, the film's director, will attend the screening.

Latina library trustee

Elisa Lara joins the Gail Borden Public Library District Board after she was appointed to fill the term of Trustee John Kokoris, who recently resigned. That term expires in April.

Elisa Lara

Lara is a community outreach nurse for VNA Health Care in Elgin. She is a member of the Elgin Hispanic Network, City of Elgin Human Relations Commission and the Latino Treatment Center Board. She also has served on the Coalition of Safe and Healthy Elgin Board and other community organizations.

“I am honored and privileged,” said Lara, a graduate of Elgin Area School District U-46 schools. “I look forward to collaborating with the community and board to advocate for the library and literacy.”

Lara has a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from Northern Illinois University.

“Elisa has been such an important part of our recent Pandemic Team efforts and our 2020 Census campaign, we are happy that she has agreed to serve,” said Carole Medal, Gail Borden Public Library District CEO. “The library district will benefit greatly from her connections throughout the community.”

MLK day of service

In case you're looking for something to do today as a family or just by yourself to honor the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., here are some volunteer opportunities:

Food drive: The Elgin Human Relations Commission's annual food drive concludes today. Now in its 10th year, the drive aims to collect 100,000 pounds of food for six area pantries. Canned goods and household items can be dropped off at the Gail Borden Public Library, Elgin police and fire stations, city hall, the Elgin YWCA and most local churches. Food donations are appreciated, but cash donations are preferred. Donations can be made at

Family-friendly projects: First United Methodist Church of Arlington Heights will host a day of service open to anyone in the community. It starts with a short worship service at 10 a.m. at the church, 1903 E. Euclid Ave., Arlington Heights. There will be family-friendly projects from 10:15 to 11:30 a.m., including making Linus Blankets, dog biscuits for a shelter, place mats for Meals on Wheels, donations bags with toiletries for Care for Real. Volunteers may opt to serve at three other locations: Feed My Starving Children in Schaumburg, 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. (ages 5 and up); Bernie's Book Bank in Lake Bluff, 1 to 3 p.m. (ages 5 and up); or Wings resale store in Arlington Heights. For information, contact Sharon Noha at, (847) 255-5112 or visit

Youth project: The Glenview Public Library will conduct a youth service project from 1 to 3 p.m. at the library, 1930 Glenview Road. Teens can spend the day earning service hours and making no-sew fleece blankets for older adults. Finished blankets will be donated to The Citadel in Glenview. Registration is required.

MLK legacy: Peoples Community Church will host a workshop and luncheon from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Panelists will discuss the importance of service and King's legacy at the church, 670 S. Lambert Road in Glen Ellyn. Participants include the DuPage Health Coalition, Unity Partnership, Milton Township Mental Health Commission, DuPage Homeownership Center, One Community Glen Ellyn, and the DuPage County Board. Register via to attend and be included in prize drawings. For information, visit

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