Shereen Mohammad on accepting identity and finding common ground
By day, Shereen Mohammad works as a resource associate at a tax firm, and juggles her spare time outside of the office working part-time as a model for publications and brands such as Atelier Doré, Dusen Dusen and Ajaie Alaie. While her full-time job provides her with financial stability, Shereen's pursuits in modeling have opened up for her brand-new avenues of creative expression.
Shereen, tell us a bit about yourself.
I work an 8-6pm job at an auditing/tax firm as a resource associate, but trust me, my life consists of so much more than Excel reports and pivot tables. Since childhood, I’ve always had a love for style and architecture, along with a hankering for travel. I am a lover of candles, yoga, plants, skincare products, R&B music and comfort.
You work as a resource associate and have also modeled for boutique brands and creative agencies such as Ajaie Alaie and Either And. How did you come into simultaneously pursuing two different paths? Is there another creative role you plan to pursue?
The moment I decided to set myself free to express my aesthetic and style through social media, was the moment opportunities started to rise. I began to model as a hobby, which blossomed into a part-time job. I sometimes find it difficult to balance modeling gigs with work because it can get to be a lot; but at the same time, the New Yorker in me needs to have that constant stimulation of learning new things and being exposed to new career paths, which is very exciting.
I am a firm believer that when someone is passionate and loves what they do, it is transparent through their work, which is why I’ve considered exploring a different career as a freelance stylist or a buyer. I want to manifest my dreams into reality. My life is mine, and this realization opened a door for me to pay attention to the reality of my life and dreams, instead of the expectation I was raised with.
As a biracial black woman, what was it like to be growing up post-9/11, leading into the Trump administration?
I had the lowest self-esteem post 9/11. I was bullied and targeted all through middle and high school because of my race and name. As a pre-teen, I couldn’t fathom the hatred some students had against my race. I still vividly remember the day I walked into my classroom after lunch to a folded sheet of paper on my desk that said, “Go back to where you came from." I remember feeling defenseless, hurt and ashamed. I was ashamed of my father because I thought he was the root of the issue. I didn’t want my peers to see him as I was afraid someone would identify him as a terrorist. I was ashamed for being Muslim and my last name, Mohammad since I was ridiculed for something I couldn’t change, which was my identity.
As I grew more into myself, I learned to embrace my identity as a biracial black woman. Being half Black and half Pakistani has afforded me a life filled with symbols of blended cultures, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Two years ago, I connected with someone from Chicago via Instagram, who is also part Pakistani and Black. I remember feeling instantly connected to her as if we’ve known each other our whole lives. Can you imagine? Meeting someone like you; someone you can finally sit at a table to share similar experiences and struggles. We’re now seeing activist such as Yara Shahidi in media, but growing up, I felt alone and misunderstood – a misfit.
I learned there is nothing wrong with standing out and having a voice, especially for our children who are affected by Trump’s attempt to ban DACA and/or to build a wall. I hope those students are far more resilient than I was.
Racism and prejudice often exists amongst and between different minority groups. What steps can we take to bridge that gap, and create a forum for understanding?
In my humble opinion walls come down, on common ground. Most prejudice or hate is ignorance and the lack of understanding.
It’s a lot harder to hate someone, when you find out they equally love, something you love. Yoga, festivals, knitting, anything. Doesn’t matter what the common ground is, we just need to make the connection and listen to each other’s story.
Outside of professional pursuits, what are your favorite avenues of intellectual or spiritual fulfillment?
I have a goal to travel the world - so far I’ve visited Pakistan, Cuba, Columbia, Italy, London, Mexico, Dubai, Greece, Croatia, Dominican Republic, St. Maarten and Thailand. Whenever I travel abroad, I capture a sense of wanderlust and longing for more destinations to visit, cultures to experience, food to eat, and people to meet. Exploring the world has shown me the meaning of love for every spirit living on this planet. At home, I often practice self-love by taking baths with scented herbs, writing in a journal, mediating at least two times a day, and dancing in front of a mirror, as if no one’s watching.
Who are some designers you are inspired by?
Maryam Nassir Zadeh, Issey Miyake, Ryan Roche and Suzanne Rae. I’m fond of simplistic designs, playful texture and earth-tone, monochrome color palettes.
What is one movie you can always watch?
For Colored Girls by Tyler Perry
What is happiness to you?
Being loved and in love; not only with someone but with everything around me.