Mixing Creativity and Compassion, Mujahid Muhammad Gives Youth the Keys to Success

His nonprofit K.E.Y.S (Keep Encouraging Youth to Succeed) has expanded throughout the years to include clinical treatment for individuals and families, senior services, recreation, and even a workforce development arm.
—Photography by Schaun Champion

After an injury sidelined him while playing baseball for Morgan State University, Mujahid Muhammad had time and excess energy to burn. He was looking for volunteer opportunities and, following a friend’s lead, picked up hours working at a nearby group home. He was shocked by what he saw.

“You assume that systems are helping,” he says. “We sometimes blindly believe that they’re doing what they’re supposed to do, but they were just warehousing kids.”

The experience was transformative. “It put me in a place where it was what I had to do, not just what I wanted to do,” he says.

While still a junior in college, Muhammad started a therapeutic-based summer camp for young adults. With no budget, he and several friends ran the camp, connecting with kids from the group home, providing sports and other activities, and even group therapy thanks to some of Morgan’s psychology professors who volunteered their time. Muhammad dubbed the program K.E.Y.S, an acronym for Keep Encouraging Youth to Succeed.

“I was getting referrals from the state, when they realized, ‘Whoa, you’re just a student,’” says Muhammad with a laugh. After graduating from Morgan in 2004, he went the official route, earning a master’s degree in clinical social work from the University of Maryland.

“At the end of the day,” he says, “I did all of this just to come back to K.E.Y.S and start the process of establishing what we have today.”

What he has today is a nonprofit that has increased access to services and resources to improve the health and well-being of city residents, particularly in West Baltimore. To date, K.E.Y.S assists some 2,000 Baltimore at-risk residents a year. In addition to providing clinical treatment for individuals, as well as families, K.E.Y.S offers senior services, recreation, and even a workforce development arm, which helps train household heads in security services.

K.E.Y.S also partners with schools to do non-traditional work as a means to the end. “You tell your child, ‘I want you to go to therapy and they’ll say, ‘I’m not doing it,’” says Muhammad, now 42. “I wanted to take away the barriers of having you go to an office and sit across from a counselor.”

One of the ways he’s gotten creative is through what he calls “culinary therapy.” In houses where food insecurity is an issue, for example, a therapist delivers groceries, then a chef and the therapist show the family how to use the ingredients over Zoom, while also discussing life stressors and issues like depression and anxiety.

“The blessing of that is that the third time we deliver those groceries, we are invited into the home and sitting on that couch talking,” he explains. “And no one ever had to sign up for therapy.”

Thanks to grants from the state as well as the SEED Community Development Anchor Institution Fund, K.E.Y.S anticipates opening its new five-acre “healing village” hub in the Coppin Heights area of West Baltimore by the end of 2024.