Elder Nabeela Uqdah makes her transition
IMAN UQDAH HAMEEN, BFA, MS.ED, DAUGHTER FORMER CHAIRPERSON NY/CT SIXTH REGION DIASPORA CAUCUS (SRDC) | 2/4/2021, midnight
Elder Nabeela Uqdah, formerly Betty Rice Roper and Sis. Betty R. X., resident of New Haven, Connecticut, transitioned in her Munson Street home Jan. 4, 2021 at approximately 5:30 a.m. at age 89. She was surrounded by her loving, immediate family with songs from one of her favorite jazz vocalists, the late Irene Reid, playing in the background. After suffering a stroke in October 2019, dementia gravely and tenaciously altered her life, causing her demise. She was born Jan. 26, 1931. Her ashes will be scattered in Africa, as she requested.
Nabeela was a precocious child and “the baby of the family” being the youngest of eight children. She was predeceased by all her siblings: Catherine R. Arnold, Marion, Dewey (who died of crib death at three months), Elsie R. Hoff, Bernard, Marjorie R. Lewis, Elizabeth R. Carter and her parents, Isaac Bronson Rice and Hazel Mae Bush Rice, both of Ohio, nephews Curtis Carter, Jr. and Richard Arnold of New Haven’s own, “The Five Satins” and niece Gwendolyn “Jay” Hoff.
In her early years in her hometown of Middletown, OH, she was the leader of her neighborhood. She was extremely popular. Her friends would fight over who would hold her hand when they walked down the street. She exhibited strong qualities of leadership, uniqueness, sensitivity and a thirst for education, always asking “why” and “why not” to understand life’s complexities.
Her life in Middletown was centered around a close knit, low income Black community, surrounded by role models, nuclear Black families, schools that prepared all children for lifelong high paying careers and plenty of opportunity for development. Unfortunately, due to migration and the promise of jobs in the North, like many other “negro” families, her father Isaac moved his family East for better financial opportunities.
Connecticut and Stony Creek (Branford) in particular, were sharp, cruel contrasts to her former environment. She was thrown into a world of rich upper class whites, where Blacks were few and far between––her dad, who spoke fluent Greek, worked for rich families in Stony Creek and Pine Orchard as their butler, landscaper, gardener and the like, on a servant’s salary that promised to pay more but never did. The move was a miserable one for the entire Rice family. They yearned for the social life they left in Ohio and found it when they joined Bethel A.M.E. Church on Sperry Street in New Haven, where they swiftly adjusted. They found their new home there.
Nabeela, the more revolutionary one, observing the luxuries attained by whites and the lack that Blacks lived with, concluded early on that the lives of a Black man and a white man are seriously and intentionally different. She spent the rest of her life delving into ”how” and “why.”
She married the late James Roper Sr. and cared for her two children, Reid and Robin, keeping them meticulously dressed, coiffed and raised with perfect manners. Everyone remarked at how well behaved her children always were. She was an exceptional mother who taught them every lesson she learned in life. On the subject of death, she taught them that death is the last rite of passage in the physical realm.
Like her older sisters, Nabeela was a skilled seamstress. She worked at Schwartz Shirt factory but wanted more. Having a wanderlust, she walked into an airline human resources office to apply for a job as a flight attendant. This was in the early 1950s. She was told that “no colored” were allowed. Dejected and seldom taking “no” for an answer, she did an about-face and applied for a community nursing program at Yale-Grace New Haven Hospital. She was accepted and graduated with high honors. She exemplified strong qualities of leadership, uniqueness and a thirst for education, always asking “why” and “why not” to understand life’s complexities.
Still seeking, Sis. Nabeela, now a certified LPN, became a dedicated, devout member and pioneer of the Nation of Islam (Temple No. 40) and the Hon. Warith Deen Muhammad community for decades. She made pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) in 1978, earning the distinguished title of “Hajjah, one of the first in the Islamic African American, New Haven community to do so. Feeling a need for change, she moved to New York’s Westchester County. She helped found a masjid in Yonkers, NY, started a food co-op for the Bronx Woodycrest Ave. Masjid to implement “do for self,” Ujima––cooperative economics, and conducted a large scale health fair with herbalists, medical doctors, dentists, physical trainers and alternative medicine practitioners.
Elder Uqdah later gravitated to the Pan African community and made a lifelong commitment to return to Mother Africa. She traveled to at least 10 African countries and made the decision to permanently repatriate there. At 70 years of age, she packed up all her belongings and life savings to reside in Namibia, Southern Africa and lastly, Ghana, West Africa for at least 13 years. She returned to the U.S. in 2012 for much-needed hip surgery and quickly returned to Ghana after recovering, only to return to the U.S. again, in 2014, for a second hip surgery. She aspired to move to Tanzania upon recovering but never returned to the continent of Africa again. Note: keep in mind that she did not leave on a whim. She researched each country’s culture, climate, language, people and political history thoroughly for at least five years. She traveled to Jamaica on a group trip with Dr. Rahsaan of Sundial Products and visited a maroon community to learn their ancient history and practices in farming and nutrition. She also lived on a Black-owned farm in South Carolina, co-run by the family of Nicholas “Ashanti” Bartlett, offering to work on their farm for a full summer so that she could better know how to work the land in Ghana. The families remained lifelong friends.
Elder Nabeela was on various committees and was a member of numerous organizations, even starting one of her own, “Sankofa Penny-A-Day”, after hearing about the concept on a WLIB-NY radio program. Her efforts helped raise over $3,000 by saving pennies in the course of one year, all of which were donated to Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, NY. She remained a nationalist and Pan African, always searching for truth, justice and correctness. She lived her life in service to others and worked vehemently to lay the foundation for reparations for Black people which helped to make it the household word that it has become today.
Her commitment to fight injustice, led her to action. She was on the frontline of many demonstrations and protests covering a full range of issues from adequate medical care and saving Sydenham Hospital, establishing a third political party before it was fashionable to ask for one, United Nations protests for the end of apartheid, lifting sanctions against Zimbabwe, freeing Nelson Mandela, reparations/repatriation, better public education, a demand for Dr. Adelaide Sanford to be chosen as the first Black NYC Board of Education Chancellor of Schools, free political prisoners, police brutality, the murders and abuse of innocent Blacks––Michael Griffith, Yusef Hawkins, Nicholas “Ashanti” Bartlett, Eleanor Bumpers, Yvonne Smallwood, and the Central Park Five (known today as the Exonerated Five)––to name the most heinous. She marched arm-in-arm with 1,000 other warriors at the infamous December 12th Movement’s “Day of Outrage” protest shutting down the Brooklyn Bridge.
Attending every weekly lecture at First World Alliance in Harlem, an esteemed African-centered lecture series that was the premiere study group and citadel for learning African history from the top scholars of our time, she became a faithful member of the United African Movement organization and its Sisters Security Committee, founded by Atty. Alton Maddox, attended regular lectures there, as well, to learn the philosophies of noted guest speakers, and co-produced her own public access cable TV show entitled “In My Opinion” with a format designed to probe solutions and theories with guests who lived their lives as organizers and problem solvers. Sis. Uqdah was among the Sharpton 15 who were jailed without protocol, for 15 days, for protesting the cover-up of the rape and kidnapping of then-teenager Tawana Brawley.
When organizing for reparations was considered pointless, she formed a committee that walked the streets of Harlem, Queens and Brooklyn, every day for a few years, distributing informational flyers about what reparations is and how to obtain it, accompanied by an information sheet about Willie Lynch. Until that time, the general public vaguely heard of reparations, nor cared to, and few had heard the name “Willie Lynch”.
Recognizing a need to educate the public further about reparations, Nabeela organized a major conference, with workshops and guest speakers, the main speaker being Dr. Robert Brock, to dissect reparations laws and requirements. Dr. Brock is the lawyer and reparations expert who filed for reparations at the eleventh hour on behalf of the Black community eliminating the statute of limitations and making it possible for all reparations cases to be heard in any court. Today, both reparations and Willie Lynch are on the lips of politicians, news anchors in the mass media. Mother Uqdah was a woman and warrior of conviction, dedication, nobility and integrity.
Throughout her life, she befriended people from all walks of life. Always looking for serious-minded people who practiced what they preached, she had no qualms about approaching anyone, from celebrities and heads of state to ordinary people alike, challenging something she took exception to or needed them to explain, hoping to find like-minded people like herself. In 2019, New Haven, CT Mayor Toni Harp presented her with a mayoral proclamation for her community work and her work for the demand for reparations at the annual Juneteenth celebration on the New Haven Green.
Elder Nabeela had a straightforwardness about her that helped her command audiences with anyone she desired to speak with. She met with African presidents, chiefs, kings, and politicians, regularly holding court with the likes of the mayor of Durban, South Africa and Chokwe Lumumba, mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, activists and celebrities like Kwame Touré (Stokely Carmichael), Danny Glover and Rev. Al Sharpton, who always seemed to spot her in a crowd with ease, Sister Souljah, Serena Williams, Dr. Jewell Pookrum, Dr. Sebi and Min. Abdul-Hafeez Muhammad, to historians and brilliant scholars such as Drs. Ben Jochannan, John Henrik Clarke, Na’im Akbar, Marimba Dona Ani, Baba James Small and Marcus Garvey III (eldest son of the late Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr.,the indomitable leader of the “Back to Africa” movement of the early 1900s), to name a few. She confidently explained that “I can get anybody to do what I want.”
The infamous “bucket list” was her way of life. From entering college in her fifties, to scuba diving in Tanzania, to sailing along the Nile, to driving up the narrow roads of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, to entering the Door of No Return in the Ghanaian slave dungeons more than once, to walking through the mighty complex of the Pyramids of Kemet (Egypt), to clearing an acre of forest growth to build her own chalet and private house in the eastern region of Ghana, to volunteering her nursing skills in a burn unit at Korlebu Hospital in Accra, Ghana, she followed her passions and beliefs, living her life the way she saw fit, well into her late 70s. She fulfilled her dream of writing her first book, ”The Unfailing Guide” that contains her definitions for words and meanings that others take for granted.
Sis. Uqdah was employed at the Jewish Home for the Aged, Yale New Haven Hospital and Veteran’s Hospital of West Haven. Before retiring at age 62, she shifted to private duty nursing and private practices in mid-Manhattan, Pelham, Dyre Avenue and City Island in the Bronx, and Upper Westchester NY. She was a Harlem resident when she retired.
Sis. Uqdah was also predeceased by her only son, Reid Dirk Roper (wife Shirley) of Killingworth, CT. Her beloved son who was so much like her, died from COVID-19 after a short hospital stay, exactly one week before she expired. She is cherished and survived by her daughter, Iman T. Uqdah Hameen (aka Robin), her son-in-law, Jesse “Cheese” H. (Kilpatrick) Hameen ll and grandchildren, Najeeb (wife Erica) of New York and Pittsburgh, Hanan of New York and CT, Jesse Hameen lll, step-grandchild Ameen (William Hatcher) Hameen and great grandchildren Khalil, Idris, Jionn, Amyrhzell, “Little One”, Adeyemi Elam, William Johnny Kilpatrick and the offspring of Reid and Shirley––Charlise (her oldest grandchild) and Reid Jr. and Charlise’s children––the Panzeras (Nicholas, Jasper, Alexander, Ariana and John), numerous devoted nieces, nephews cousins and close local, national and international friends who make up her extended family.
Elder Nabeela H. Uqdah fought the good fight. She lived the essence of Christianity, Islam, African Spirituality and the “Nguzo Saba”, the 7 principles of Kwanzaa, every day. The world is a better place because she was in it.
Her family extends a heartfelt “Thank You” for gracing her life. Your prayers, words of support, time, thoughtfulness, generous gifts, cards and moments of reflection are a comfort to us and a testament to her. She loved you all. She honored and thanked the Most High “Omnipotent Intelligence” for her life and every aspect of it every day. She rests in Truth and Power.
“It is so! It is done!”
There was a virtual remembrance Jan. 26, 2021 via Zoom on what would have been her 90th birth anniversary, hosted by her grandchildren, Najeeb and Hanan Hameen.