Pembroke's Aminah Ghaffar makes ECU's '40 Under Forty' list

·6 min read

Feb. 5—PEMBROKE — There are many words that can be used to describe Aminah Ghaffar: inspiration speaker, Afro-Indigenous, activist, athlete, business owner.

Introvert is a word that many would be surprised to know is part of that list.

"I've had to work to overcome anxiety over the years and I still get anxious when I speak because one: the topics are pretty heavy sometimes, and two: I have definitely been in rooms where it hasn't been well received," Ghaffar said. "I've had to work through not caring it was not well received and sticking to what is like our people's truth."

Working through that anxiety has resulted in Ghaffar, at the age of 27, being added to East Carolina's University's 2022 40 Under 40 list. The list highlights alumni who have went on make an impact whether that be through business, research, art, leadership, community, educational and/or philanthropic endeavors before reaching the age of 40. Ghaffar is a 2017 graduate.

"I was really humbled to selected as 40 Under Forty and I'm under 30," Ghaffar said. "Sometimes I get so trapped in my work, caught up in my work, I don't celebrate what I accomplish and I think that's something we all can do a better job of, celebrating the milestones or celebrating the small wins or big wins cause we're definitely not going to eradicate corruption over night."

Currently, Ghaffar is a Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Advocate Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Advocate for the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs, a role used to support and advocate for survivors through the use of counseling, legal assistance, and providing support group spaces. She also spends her time speaking up for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women's movement, maintaining her company, Good Medicine Woman, and expanding her Breaths Together for a Change research.

Developing the voice

It was during Ghaffar's preteen years, while playing on a basketball team coached by he father, Abdul Ghaffar, that she understood that although she identified both as Black from her father's side and American Indian from her mother's, that others may not perceive her as a black person because of her skin color.

"I did not understand at the time that my skin is not black, or paid attention to it but I was like 'My dad is right there,'" Ghaffar said. "In retrospect you never realize those childhood experiences are going to shape you in the moment."

Growing up in Robeson County she experienced the racial tension that comes with the diversity.

"There are boiling racial tensions always and a lot of it is rooted in ignorance. We're all going around seeing each other as strangers instead of like relatives. We're not identifying each other as having a similar struggle against white supremacy or colonialism," Ghaffar said.

Once Ghaffar reached high school, she experienced more racial tension being in a predominantly white school in Fayetteville.

"The issues that they we're having these racist Thanksgiving assemblies, having students dress up as pilgrims and Indians and displaying an inaccurate account of history just like everywhere else in the country, but I was not going to let that happen at my school" Ghaffar said.

Ghaffar decided to participate in assembly and use it as an opportunity to educate on her Lumbee culture. She faced backlash from fellow students and faculty.

It was during college that Ghaffar was encouraged by her family and mentors to use her voice to fight against injustice, and learned that her voice was one of her greatest tools.

"From both sides of family I have people that have just shown me to raise your voice and use your voice," Ghaffar said. "I just had these great examples of people in my life.

Speaking out MMIW

Ghaffar joined the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement after hearing of Rhonda Jones, Megan Oxendine and Christina Bennett were found dead in Lumberton in 2017.

"Just hearing about three women being found within weeks were alarming and sickening," Ghaffar said.

Her mother, Bobby Jacobs-Ghaffar, educated her on the MMIW movement, which originated in Canada, and was established to shed light on the habitual occurrence of American Indian women going missing or being murdered, the reasons, and address the lack of public attention these incidents receive.

"I was just so heartbroken about it," Ghaffar said.

While a graduate student at Georgetown, Ghaffar was granted her first opportunity to speak.

"I decided to decided to talk about those three cases in Lumberton at the Indianapolis Women's March in 2018," she said.

Her speaking first made speaking a struggle, Ghaffar said.

"It was a big challenge for me but I felt I like I was doing it for them and their families and it gave me confidence and more power," Ghaffar said. "I was like I have to say this. I have the chance to talk about those stories in Robeson County so I need to use that platform."

Good Medicine Woman

While obtaining her masters degree in integrative medicine at Georgetown University, Ghaffar was taught to synthesize information instead of memorizing.

"I didn't know what that meant," Ghaffar said at the time.

This concept is what led to Ghaffar focusing on some of the gaps in integrative medicine.

"There's a lot of indigenous modalities that are being used in the integrative medicine field but the people going in to teach those modalities weren't from those backgrounds and then indigenous medicine wasn't mentioned hardly at all," Ghaffar said.

"There's an irony about how indigenous modalities and indigenous knowledge get used for profit, gets used in the Western world but indigenous people don't always get credit for it," she added. "When I say credit, I mean they don't get financially compensated. They don't even get credit for laying the foundation for what is Western research so that's kind of what pushed me to start writing about that from that perspective."

Then Good Medicine Woman came about.

Good Medicine Woman is an indigenous art and consulting company that "prioritizes advocacy for Indigenous rights and social change."

"That was my initial goal but just like addressing socio economic and racial issues became like another part of it because everything is connected," Ghaffar said.

Good Medicine

Breaths Together for a Change

In addition to being Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault advocate, Ghaffar serves as the primary researcher for Breaths Together for a Change, what she describes as an Indigenous-centric meditation program that focuses on using somatic literacy that addressed "faulty alarms to address bias, bigotry, and hate, and also to heal historical trauma.

"Our whole model centered around stopping perpetration in addition to healing trauma because we often times hear that people should just heal their trauma and get over it but the perpetration continues and we just keep getting retraumatized and we're forced to be stuck in this whole healing loop."

Ghaffar said Breaths Together for Change is still in its pilot stages.

"But, hopefully in the future we will be doing more with that," Ghaffar said.

Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at tsinclair@robesonian.co or 910-416-5865.