AN ALUM OF MANY TALENTS VISITS COLUMBIA HIGH SCHOOL by Ellen Donker
Students meet Ahmed Best, class of 1991.
Columbia High School recently welcomed Ahmed Best, CHS class of 1991, to speak to the students on behalf of the Don Hamingson Literary Showcase. Don Hamingson was a teacher of English at Columbia High School for 35 years and the late director emeritus of The South Orange-Maplewood Adult School. To honor and celebrate his love of the English-language arts, his dedication to teaching his students, and his years of directing the programs of the Adult School, the Literary Showcase Committee selects a speaker who is a CHS graduate and is involved in the arts as a professional writer, journalist, poet, screenwriter, or film director.
Best, who is an actor, writer, director, producer, musician, host, futurist and professor, told the students about his background. He was born in the Bronx (he has a twin brother, Khalid) and recalled his time there as a child when Hip Hop was emerging. Best regaled the students with his memories of Grandmaster Flash, a pioneer of Hip Hop DJing, playing outdoors at neighborhood parties. He and his brother loved hearing the loud music through their windows. His parents – not so much.
When Best was in middle school, his family moved to Maplewood, and he attended Maplewood Middle School and Columbia High School. A member of the marching band, choir, debate club and Parnassian Society (the student drama society), Best loved music, acting and dancing. It was at CHS that he developed a love of Shakespeare.
Best went on to study percussion at the Manhattan School of Music and began his career as a star in the Broadway musical “Stomp,” touring with the cast for eight shows a week in the US and Europe. He then was cast in the “Star Wars” prequels – The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith – as Jar Jar Binks, the first CGI lead character in a motion picture.
Best is a graduate of the American Film Institute and currently serves as a Senior Fellow at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the host of the Afrofuturist podcast and a co-founder of the AfroRithm Futures Group.
He spoke to students about his work and inspiration and encouraged them to “be the signal” and believe that they could play a part in designing the future.
Best’s parents, Ahmondylla and Bahati, who still live in Maplewood, and his twin brother, Khalid, were in attendance.