The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Humans of UMW: Bilqiis Sheikh-Issa on minorities and mental health

3 min read
This image features Bilqiis Sheikh-Issa.

Bilqiis Sheikh-Issa is a freshman at UMW. (Courtesy of Bilqiis Sheikh-Issa)


Staff Writer

Bilqiis Sheikh-Issa, a freshman with a huge impact on the multicultural community of UMW, has seen the world in ways that most others have not.
Born in Greensboro, North Carolina, Sheikh-Issa moved back and forth between the United States and the Middle East. She spent a majority of her childhood in Saudi Arabia, as her father wanted his family to live in a Muslim country to give them a deeper understanding of their religion. She reminisces about simpler times where she would ride her bike around the compounds with her friends or chase the neighborhood cats. However, the most important memories were ones where she was around her family.

“My most favorite memory is that at night my dad would come home from work and me and my brother would get all of our toys and we would dump them on my mom’s bed, and he would just tell us stories,” Sheikh-Issa said. “In Somali it’s called ‘Sheeko Sheeko’ which means ‘talk talk.’”

In August 2014, when Sheikh-Issa was 12 years old, her father passed away. For five years she struggled to connect with her family and with her religion. She credits her mother for being there for her and her brother through one of the hardest times of their lives. Unfortunately, this was not the first time Sheikh-Issa struggled with mental health issues.

“My biggest hardship in life has been my mental health. Honestly I started struggling with mental health at a really young age and I don’t think we talk about it enough, particularly in a lot of black communities and immigrant communities,” Sheikh-Issa said. “Especially for my family, who immigrated out of refuge, it was really hard for them to grasp onto the fact that I was struggling with a lot of mental issues because it’s hard when you go through a war and you think that you’re just fine with the survival of it all, to understand that there can be deeper issues that aren’t being properly addressed.”

As high school came to an end, the idea of attending UMW was originally brought up by Sheikh-Issa’s high school debate coach, whom she calls “Papa Price.” She considers him to be one of the most important people in her life and credits him for providing her with perspective when she needed it most.

“He really was a father figure to me when I didn’t have one,” Sheikh-Issa said. “Without him I don’t think I would be the same person I am today. He was always there to just make sure that I was okay and working on being okay.”

Sheikh-Issa’s mental health took a hit again last semester when her friend, and first love, passed away. It brought back a lot of emotional trauma from when her father died, as he reminded her a lot of her dad. However, Sheikh-Issa powered through. She has taken her personal struggles and transformed them into advocacy for mental health awareness, especially for those who are raised by families who may not be understanding. Her biggest goal in life is to start a non-profit organization that helps low-income, minority children and adolescents get access to proper mental health services.

For now, Sheikh-Issa spends her time at UMW being a powerful figure within the multicultural community. She is the vice president of the NAACP and has created a club called Poetic Justice that serves as a safe space for people of color. In addition, Sheikh-Issa is also a part of the African Student Union, Black Student Association and Women of Color. She believes one of the biggest parts of college is getting involved and that it is important to get ideas of different perspectives, especially since she considers her own perspective to be one of the most unique things about her.

“My entire background has shaped me into the person I am today, even the relationships I just recently had,” Sheikh-Issa said. “I think my lived experiences are definitely incomparable to anything else.”

A previous version of this article misspelled Bilqiis Sheikh-Issa’s name in the headline. It has since been corrected.

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