Sameerah Muhammad has used her creativity in the kitchen since she was 6 years old. Born and raised in Jackson, Muhammad would make a home-cooked meal for her father every day when he walked home on his lunch break from the furniture store he worked at.
Today, she owns Sameerah's Healthy Kiosk in the Jackson Medical Mall and Sameerah's Food and Flavor on Woodrow Wilson Avenue. Her journey has moved her through the food scene in Jackson, out of state and back.
Muhammad mainly worked in restaurants, even in high school. She worked at Steven's Kitchen on Farish Street as a waitress during the Civil Rights Movement, serving activists such as Alice Walker and Marion Berry in the mid-1960s.
Rebellious creativity led her in and out of several colleges, and she struggled to stay in one line of study. But her creativity continued to blossom in the kitchen. Even when she worked in hotel restaurant kitchens, she worked to make the dishes look as appealing as they tasted. To this day, Muhammad believes presentation is key. "People eat with their eyes first," she says.
She started selling what she called "Fish in the Pocket" at street fairs. The popularity and demand of her street food led her to open the Bon Ton Cafe in 1982. She ran it for 10 years in downtown Jackson before moving to Washington, D.C., and the Baltimore area, where she ran her own bistro. She was the first African American to own and operate a restaurant on Capitol Street.
Muhammad returned to Jackson in 2007 to be with her mother, who is now 97 years old. Walking through the Jackson Medical Mall one day was all it took for her to think about getting back into the restaurant business. "I saw the need, because I wanted a fresh fruit smoothie and a wrap," Muhammad says. "I went everywhere looking for it in the mall."
When she couldn't find that healthy food, she decided to open her own kiosk.
At Sameerah's Healthy Kiosk, food is cooked to order, and nothing is prepared in advance, so it can take 15 to 20 minutes for a meal to be made. At first, her kiosk was not well received. She said people had to get used to leaf lettuce, brown rice, black beans and the vegetables she offers, such as zucchini.
Eventually, however, customers and clients began to realize that healthy food does not mean a loss of taste or flavor.
Muhammad, 66, wants to see Jackson and the entire state of Mississippi be a healthier place. She is doing her part to help, answering clients' questions about digestion, how foods affect their bodies and what natural remedies are available. "We are going to have to start changing the paradigm and how people are ingesting information ... if we are going to have a healthy state," she says.