Author Hanif Abdurraqib giving back to community by hosting back-to-school party

Cameron Teague Robinson
The Columbus Dispatch
Hanif Abdurraqib is hosting a back-to-school party on Saturday, which is also the one-year anniversary of the "People's Mural of Columbus" featuring Abdurraqib. The mural is located at 1450 E. Main St.

Hanif Abdurraqib is proud of his roots.  

He doesn't shy away from being a Columbus native and a graduate of Beechcroft High School. He remembers his time in Columbus City Schools fondly, but also knows that if it weren't for mentors and teachers, he wouldn’t be where he is today — a successful writer and poet.  

"If not for outside support and some teachers, I don’t know how I would have survived my school years,” he said.  

Now, at 38, Abdurraqib is finding ways to help students who were just like him.  

From 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, he will host a back-to-school party at the site of the People’s Mural of Columbus, 1450 E. Main St. The mural, which is a picture of him, commissioned by CBus Libraries and finished by Bryan Moss and Hakim Callwood, is a special place for Abdurraqib and not just because he's the subject of the work.  

He wants it to be a place for the community, one where he can give back to the city in which he was raised. The event, where people can come and pick up backpacks filled with free school supplies, eat and listen to music, is just the first step in that process.  

"The goal, too, is to make this an annual thing,” he said. “It can’t be an annual thing if you don’t do it once to see how it goes.” 

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Abdurraqib wants to give back to Columbus

Abdurraqib has immense gratitude toward Callwood and Moss for making the mural of him, but he acknowledges that he had a weird feeling seeing it when it was finished.

"I don’t think about myself much different than anyone else present in the city,” he said. “That level of attention alarmed me at first. I was grateful, but a whole mural?” 

Despite the success Abdurraqib has had, he just sees himself as a normal man from Columbus, who is now reaping the benefits of his hard work. In September 2021, Abdurraqib was named a MacArthur Fellow. The "genius grants" as they are known, are given to writers, scientists, artists, social scientists, humanists, teachers, entrepreneurs, or those in other fields. The fellowship comes with a $625,000 stipend that can be used to advance their work or careers.

And earlier this year, he won a Carnegie Medal for his collection of essays "A Little Devil in America." The author and poet has earned numerous other awards and accolades.

Despite his accomplishments, though, he never wanted the mural to just be about himself. The plan was always to make it about the city and something bigger than just one man.  

"We talked about this gathering and it not being just a monument to whatever people believe my presence is in the city,” he said. “It can’t just be my face on the wall, as beautiful as it is, with gratitude to Bryan and Hakim, it can’t just be my face on a wall.” 

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The idea of a back-to-school party serves many purposes.  

First and foremost, it’s a chance for families and students to get the school supplies and help they need. Abdurraqib will have 120 backpacks filled with notebooks, pencils and pens to give away to people in attendance. Attendees don't have to show they are in need, just arrive and pick up a backpack. He purchased all of the backpacks and will include a Target gift card in them, too, for families who may need to get other supplies.

Creating a festive environment for the party

The event, though, is about more than just the backpacks. Abdurraqib doesn’t want it to be a pick-up-and-go event.  

"I could’ve just left these at the site of the mural and said come pick them up and be on your way, but the goal is to make this something where people can come out, make an experience and have a good time,” he said. 

He wanted an event to celebrate the end of the summer, so he’s planned a full block party in a sense. Nervous about doing it at first, he initially thought it could be an all-day event, but cut it to two hours when thinking about people spending hours in the summer heat.  

Still, he will have complimentary food catered by Willowbeez SoulVeg, performances by Joey Aich, Dom Deshawn, Aloe Vera and more.

"I remember when I was in school I hated the end of summer, hated those last couple weeks,” he said. “It was good living in this city, having a block party, or something like that. I wanted to play a small part in inviting some pleasure at the end of summer.” 

Saturday’s event is a celebration of many things. It’s the one-year anniversary of the mural, but moreover, it’s the beginning of the way Abdurraqib hopes the mural will be used - as a way to bring together a community that helped raise him.  

"We were putting our heads together and we said if we had a party it can’t just be 'happy one year of this mural,'" he said. "It has to serve a useful purpose that goes beyond myself.”

At a glance

Hanif Abdurraqib will host a back-to-school party from 1-3 p.m. Saturday at the site of the People's Mural of Columbus, 1450 E. Main St.. Holding the party on the one-year anniversary of the mural, Abdurraqib will give away 120 backpacks full of school supplies to help families before the summer ends. The event will also have music, catered food and is free to attend.