Mother Ruby Muhammad is proof that it’s never too late to do anything. An orphan who met her father when she was a teenager, Muhammad joined the Nation of Islam at age 49 and learned to read at 60.
Sacramento’s oldest supercentenarian at age 112, Muhammad will perform songs and tell stories about her life March 7 at the Imani Community Church. The first-time performer will be joined for the one-night-only performance by her friend, playwright and vocalist Suzanne Brooks, and Brooks’ band, The Jazz Generation.
The show is tentatively called "I Believe I Can Fly," after Muhammad’s favorite song, written by R. Kelly. It also aligns with her positive outlook and her belief that if she had wings, she could fly.
Muhammad was born Ruby Macie Grayer in Sandersville, Ga., in 1897. She grew up in Americus and worked on a farm that belonged to the family of former President Jimmy Carter.
Muhammad’s first memory is picking cotton. In her childhood, the family didn’t own much, not even a bed. Muhammad’s daily routine was to pick up her few belongings from the floor and work in a cotton or peanut field from 4 a.m. to 7 or 8 p.m., said Brooks, who was asked recently to write Muhammad’s biography.
"They were like slaves, really," Brooks added.
On the farm, Muhammad used work tools as musical instruments. One of her favorite songs was "We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder," which she plans to perform.
Because she never had a formal education, Muhammad made her living doing housework. Besides Georgia, she has lived in St. Paul, Minn., San Francisco and Sacramento, where she moved to be closer to her daughter after Muhammad’s second husband died.
She’s surprisingly physically and mentally sharp for a 112-year-old. Sitting in a recliner in her home in a South Sacramento retirement community, Muhammad moves to her couch without a walker to pose for a photograph.
She wrote a book of poetry in 2001, and recites one of the poems off the top of her head. Muhammad claims she’s still a limber dancer, an avid bingo player and a cook.
She uses a hearing aid and owns a wheelchair that was a gift. But Muhammad is all smiles and can talk your ear off.
"She loves me and she helps (me) to understand love in a really special way," said Brooks. "She will call me sometimes at one or two in the morning to chit chat about politics, the world, or the environment."
In 1986, the leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, named Muhammad the Mother of the Nation of Islam.
Muhammad said she loves the title of "mother," and added, "I’m proud I took care of children."
She recalled finding a 4- or 5-year-old Jimmy Carter getting into her peanut sack.
"I shoved him off. He went ‘Waaah,’ " she said. "His mother came in the door and said, ‘What happened?’ I said, ‘He fell.’ "
Carter didn’t hold it against her. After all, Muhammad was the boy’s nursemaid. During his presidency, Carter invited Muhammad to the White House.
"I love people and I think they love me," she said. "I may be fooling myself, but I don’t believe I am. That’s me."
The great-great-great-grandma said she would like to be regarded as "the mother of the U.S.," "the mother of Sacramento" and "Mother Ruby to the whole world."
Her goals include writing more books, being the oldest woman on Earth (she must outlast a handful of supercentenarians) and receiving a third invitation to the White House to meet the Obama family and eat dinner with them. "I didn’t ever think I would live to see a black president," Muhammad said. "I like him and I think he’ll make us a good president."
She’s traveled all over the United States, to Mexico, the Bahamas, Italy, England and France. Muhammad loves music, especially jazz, as well as writing poetry. "I do what I want to do, and I go where I want to go," she said. "I’m just happy to be alive."
Her advice for younger generations?
"You can do anything you want to do if you put your mind to it. Plant that in your mind like a seed in the ground."
Advance tickets can be purchased by mailing a check or money order with the number of tickets requested and return address to: 3325 Northrop Ave., Sacramento, CA 95864. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. The Imani Community Church is located at 2100 J St.
Check The Sacramento Press closer to the event date for more information.