In 2011, when I was a freelance writer for SoulTrain.com, back when it was owned by Magic Johnson, I was assigned to write music reviews and Q and A’s with new artists. One of the artists I interviewed was Maimouna Youssef, also known as MuMu Fresh. This multi-talented artist presents brazen intelligence and undaunted confidence. MuMu Fresh is a class act in more ways than one.
Her 2018 performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk series on YouTube has garnered over a million views highlighting her creative ingenuity as both a singer and an MC. I recently learned that she has been broadening her skill set as an audio engineer, too. But, these characteristics are only a mere glimpse at the breadth and dimension of this artist who has regularly toured with Common, been nominated for a GRAMMY for her work with the hip-hop group The Roots, and had her music appear on television shows including the BET hit Being Mary Jane, starring Gabrielle Union. MuMu Fresh is a single homeschooling mother, a dynamic cultural scholar and an outspoken educational innovator who looks at her role as a parent as being fundamental to her existence.
I spent about an hour in a riveting conversation with Maimouna in 2020 about her early experiences balancing parenting her teen son, Messiah and her busy life as a touring artist. This interview was conducted to be published in a new magazine by a homeschooling organization that did not successfully launch as planned due to COVID-19. However, I still wanted to share the interview and decided to do so through this blog.
During this interview, Maimouna shared some of her biggest take-aways as someone who was homeschooled herself and who finds value in the ways young people can learn outside of traditional school settings. Be sure to check out her work and consider booking her for the workshops that she offers if you are coordinating classes for a homeschooling co-op or independent school. Her workshops are also great for your child if you are homeschooling or if they are enrolled in traditional school. My daughter participated in one of Maimouna’s virtual workshops in 2021 before she was graduated from our homeschool last May.
Dr. Khadijah: Now, you have been an active performance artist for dozens of years now. What led you to your decision to homeschool? How long have you been homeschooling? And, what led you to this decision to homeschool?
Maimouna Youssef: I’ve been home schooling Messiah since he was five, he had been about three months in kindergarten, and I knew it wasn’t going to work since their curriculum to be facilitated was developing a personality trait of intolerance. It was very Eurocentric and his teacher was completely unwilling to even incorporate anything multi-cultural. I came in to teach workshops for the class to try and give them more African and Native American story time. I really tried to help diversify their curriculum because it was so European-centered. She really resented that, and so we kind of bumped heads because she was in a class full of Black children. She refused to budge. She really resented the idea of the curriculum being more inclusive, and when I spoke to the principal, she kind of dropped her shoulders, “It’s public school, how much can you really ask for?” And, I was like “That’s not good enough. That’s not good enough for my child.”
I was at the school so much trying to offset so much of the hard core European-centric propaganda that I said to myself, I might as well home school because I’m here every day, I could just stay home and do what I’m doing, because it wasn’t like the curriculum was rigorous. He was already counting to 150, and he had to wait for the rest of the class to count to 20, because I’d already unknowingly was homeschooling just because I have very high standards for myself, and so I have high standards for my son. So, he was already so far ahead of his kindergarten class by the time he got there. Really, the pace was dragging him back and he was bored, and what I noticed with a lot of boys in particular, African American boys in particular, who are very intelligent, very young, they’ll be bored in class.
Dr. Khadijah: What was your schooling experience?
Maimouna Youssef: I was home-schooled until I was in 10th grade. So, I was familiar with the concept of home schooling, not in a way that homeschooling happens now. My homeschool curriculum was more culturally intuitive. I might have gone through some kind of Pan-African school in Pre-K. But for the most part, I was home with my mother. She put my whole curriculum together. I see sometimes that some of the curriculums are still very Eurocentric even when you homeschool, and you still have to be the diversity and be the truth, because they don’t like to tell the truth.
But with my mom, she had explained so much. It was homeschooling when I was coming up, it was me and all my siblings, and then my mother convinced my aunt to take her two children out of school, and then she was running a Rites of Passage program and she convinced another mother to take their kids. So, she was trying to create her own co-op back then. But, the idea was so revolutionary, it wasn’t a lot of people that was really down to do it, and of course, people were trying to figure it out.
I would go to Ivan Sertima lectures, I have pictures with him. He was one of my teachers. I would go see Dr. Francis Cress Welsing and Anthony Browder, those are the people that I would see and go to their lectures. As a part of my homeschool curriculum, I could go to my grandmother’s house and learn bead work or learn to build sweat lodges and learn to pray, like anything could be part of school.
Dr. Khadijah: You were performing with your grandmother and your mother at that time when you were a little girl?
Maimouna Youssef: My first concert, I was four years old. My grandmother passed when I was 14. So, I’ve been performing with them my whole life
Dr. Khadijah: So, when you were homeschooled, you were on a road, too, so it was very conducive to what you were doing as a performer. So, you weren’t only going to these people’s lectures, you were probably seeing them in different cities across the world.
Maimouna Youssef: Yes. My mother’s reason was about being the predominant cultural influence on her children, of not allowing the popular culture to decide the culture in her home, you know? And for me, it is very much similar to that. It was very important to me that whoever teaches my child, you have to love my child, you have to want to see him do well. Like on his first day in class, his teacher didn’t want to call him Messiah, his name, because it offended her race sensibilities.
Dr Khadijah: It offended her sensibilities?
Maimouna Youssef: She said, “ Can I call him ‘mess’ instead?”
Dr. Khadijah: What?
Maimouna Youssef: Yeah, and you know I’m big on words, I’m a writer, so I had to really control myself when I say this…you don’t call a child a mess, and then expect him to do well. You don’t care if he does well, because it’s more important to you that he doesn’t feel powerful. And, we’re not going to have that.
To me, there’s still too much government or involvement in how you teach your children, even when you’re home school. They do not have a better alternative that is culturally inclusive, not just culturally, but inclusive of the free analytical mind. There’s no room for a free thinker in this country, not in the education system, it’s very bureaucratic, very conformist.
Dr. Khadijah: Your method of schooling is linked tightly with your way of parenting.
Maimouna Youssef: The only reason I can give him so much responsibility right now is because I really built the foundation where he was small. I had to sit at the table every single day and learn his learning style. It wasn’t about him conforming to my teaching style, but how do you learn best? And then I’m going to adapt to that, ’cause I love you that much. When he’s hanging out the chair, ’cause he’s five years old and he would rather watch backyard again, so I’m going to take him outside and build a hopscotch board and I’m going to add numbers, and I’m going to say, if you get to the end of this board first, you’re the winner.
I’m teaching him in a way that’s enjoyable for him, so it’s not going to be stressful for me.
Dr. Khadijah: How do you do all of this with being someone actively touring, and you are touring in a mainstream entertainment field?
Maimouna Youssef: When he was small, I did, I stopped. I toured before my son was born, and then I stopped touring until he was maybe like 6 or 7, and even then, I didn’t take long tours, I might do a weekend in a country. I would literally fly to South Africa to a gig that same night and fly out the next morning when I needed to be back to make sure I picked him up for some program he was going to. That’s how hard I worked, and I traveled with that kind of short intervals of rest. I had a tour in Australia, now, he was a little bit older than. Maybe he was about 10. I had to be gone for two weeks. Australia is a 27-hour flight. We did Australia and New Zealand; it was this big concert with Maxwell and DeAngelo. But, once I got off stage, I fulfilled my obligation.
Booked myself on the next flight because my son has a field trip at this black farm, and I need to be there ’cause I already agreed to chaperone. So, I’m getting off this flight, I almost fell out in the field because that’s how fatigued I was. But, I had to keep my commitment.
I know that when I started to raise a teenager it would change my whole perspective. It changed what I thought was possible, what I wanted to have in my life, you know, travel just changed my whole world view, it changed me as a human being to be able to travel. And I really, really wanted that for him, and he had traveled throughout the United States and at different points in time. I really prayed to have an opportunity to open up where he could start traveling more internationally, so we ended up getting a gig on a cruise ship. So, I took him with me on a cruise ship and he could still do his homework.
We went to all the types of different islands, and then I got another residency in London. So, he came to London with me, and it just really, it has shaped him. Like, his father has other children, and when they talk about him, he says, “Oh, this is my son, the one that travels.” It has changed who he is, and that’s how they identify him, because it’s something very unique about his perspective now that he is global.
A lot of parents say, I don’t have the patience to homeschool. It’s like water. You don’t have a patience to show up to your life as a whole person. That’s really what you’re saying. And to me, homeschool, it gives you an opportunity to grow because it’s going to show you your insecurities and your fears and get short comments and all that, and you have to decide, “Do I really want to grow, do I want to show up to this moment and be better?”
Learn more about Maimouna Youssef at https://maimounayoussef.com/