MAPLEWOOD, N.J. – Two Columbia High School alumni were inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame this week.
Bisa Butler and Ibtihaj Muhammad received the prestigious honor, which is given out each year to alumni, for being distinguished leaders in their careers or endeavors.
Butler graduated from Columbia High School in 1991. She received the honor for her artwork, which she has shown in the United States and around the world.
Muhammad graduated from Columbia High School in 2003. She is a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist in fencing and a five-time senior world medalist and world champion. She is also an entrepreneur, activist and speaker.
“I was once where you guys are now, sitting in the audience at a Hall of Fame assembly,” Muhammad said as she spoke to Columbia High School students on Wednesday. “And to be completely honest, I was that kid who saw myself on stage. I was like yeah, that’s going to be me.”
Muhammad explained that her feeling of being honored one day was a feeling of confidence and believing in yourself.
Growing up, Muhammad said she was bullied. As an African American woman and a Muslim who wears a hijab, she said it wasn’t always easy to fit in.
“We’ll all have those moments in our lives where we may feel like we don’t fit in,” she told the audience of students on Wednesday. “But it’s not those moments that are important, it’s how you respond to those moments.
In addition to fencing, Muhammad has made an impact in the fashion industry. She launched her own clothing company, Louella, which brings modest, fashionable and affordable clothing to the United States. Mattel announced its first hijabi Barbie as part of Barbie’s “Shero” line of dolls, which to company created in Muhammad’s likeness.
She is also a sports ambassador with the U.S. Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls through Sport Initiative and works with Athletes for Impact and the Special Olympics.
Butler has an artistic side. When she attended Columbia High School, Butler said that she too had trouble fitting in, but that she discovered her love for art while at the school.
“I could draw. I could paint,” Butler said as she told the audience that she tried other activities including sports before she focused on art.
“Most of my friends were athletes,” she said. “I tried softball, but I have no aim. I couldn’t catch. I tried to play soccer. I was too slow. I can’t dribble.”
Butler taught art in the Newark Public Schools for eight years before joining the staff at Columbia High School. She taught Art 1, fibers, design and drawing at the school.
Butler has shown her work as part of a The Kinsey Collection at Walt Disney World, The Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, and at Miami Art Basel. The Art Institute of Chicago, The 21c Museum Hotels, and The Minneapolis Institute of Art have acquired her work. Her work will be shown at the Katonah Museum of Art and The Art Institute of Chicago in 2020 in solo museum shows.
The 2019 Hall of Fame assembly occurred on June 5 in the Columbia High School auditorium.
The assembly was presented by the Columbia High School Student Council and the Hall of Fame Committee.
Alumni are selected earlier in the school year and the designations are kept a secret until the assembly occurs.