How a co-op past helped a journey to Olympic gold

'There’s an African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child, and in our experience, that is the absolute truth'

Brought up in the Rochdale Village Co-op in Queens, NYC, the young girl who once raced around the Rochdale Village Community Center has become one of the fastest Olympic hurdlers of all time.

In 2016 at the Rio Olympics, Dalilah Muhammad became the first American woman ever to win a Gold Medal in the 400 meter hurdles. She won a Gold Medal for the 400m hurdles at the 2019 World Championships with a world record of 52.16 seconds. Muhammad also won Gold in the 4X400 meter relay at the same 2019 World Championships.  

At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Muhammad won all her heats and took silver medal at the 400m hurdles. In the Tokyo event on 3 August, she achieved a personal best of 51.58 seconds which beat the existing world record and she is the second fastest woman in the world at this event. A few days later, on 7 August, Muhammad won another gold being part of the US Dream Team that won the 4×400 relay.

Dalilah Muhammad at Rio in 2016 (CC Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil)

Muhammad was born in 1990 and grew up in Rochdale Village, a housing co-op sponsored by the United Housing Foundation. From a very young age, Dalilah showed athleticism especially in track events. After running rampant at her High School, Muhammad won an athletic scholarship to the University of Southern California (USC). In 2012, Muhammad turned professional and has continued in her winning ways.

Muhammad is only the second female 400m hurdler in history, after Sally Gunnell (UK), to have won the Olympic, world titles and broken the world record. She is the second American Muslim woman to win an Olympic gold medal.

Her parents are Nadirah and Askia Muhammed. Nadirah is a child protection specialist and Askia is a Muslim Chaplain, teaching Islamic Studies at the New York Theological Seminary. All the family have careers in public service.

 “We enjoy family and we enjoy community,” her father, Askia Muhammad said. “There’s an African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child, and in our experience, that is the absolute truth. Because so many people contributed to the success of Dalilah and all of our children.”

Interviewed after her wins this year for NBC Channel 4 New York Muhammad the track and field athlete said: “having a big house or a lot of money” used to motivate her to do her best. That’s not the case any more. Muhammad says now it’s all about giving back to her community.

“It makes me proud to be representing Queens and be from Rochdale Village,” she said. “It’s definitely the thing that pushes me forward to do my very best.”

In 2016, Rochdale Village Co-op organised a parade and event to honour her Olympic achievements. You can see the event on YouTube.

There are 5,860 apartments at Rochdale Village in 20 buildings of 13 floors each. Rochdale Village sits on 120 acres most of which previously had been the Jamaica Race Track. Nearly 25,000 people live at Rochdale Village. When it opened in 1963, Rochdale Village was the largest housing co-op in the world. It is now 2nd after Co-op City in the Bronx at 16,000 apartments. It takes about three years on the Rochdale Village waiting list before an apartment becomes available.

The Rochdale Village Co-op web site states: “Rochdale Village is a completely self-contained community. Our 120 landscaped acres feature tall shade trees, lawns, flowerbeds, sitting areas, baseball field, basketball and tennis courts, playgrounds and a community garden. Other amenities include two onsite shopping malls, a community centre and senior centre.”

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