For some people, learning is a lifestyle. With five degrees and more to come, Issa Kabeer is one of those people.
Kabeer, 34, is an actor, university student and a teacher. He has a bachelor’s degree in comparative religion, a master’s in international peace and conflict resolution, a master’s in comparative religion, a master’s in divinity and a doctorate of ministry. He is enrolled now at Temple University, possibly for social work.
“My whole life I’ve been very interested in making the world a better place than it was when I came in. I need to better myself and, once I do that, I can help better things around me,” Kabeer said, explaining why he continues to pursue education.
Education didn’t necessarily come easily to Kabeer; as a first-generation college student, there were challenges.
“I had no idea what I was doing when I came in. College is completely different from high school. In high school, they kinda hold your hand, but in college, you have to decide everything on your own,” Kabeer said.
Kabeer tells other young students to make sure they do internships, join organizations and get a taste of the careers they’re considering, “Connect with your adviser, and take advantage of the tutoring services,” he said. “Don’t just go where people tell you; take an ideogram test, Myers-Briggs, see what you have the aptitude for.”
He stressed that it’s important to consciously look after your mental health and be aware of your college’s mental health services. Self-expression is critical and, for Kabeer, that meant acting.
“Everyone needs to be able to express themselves. If people just focus on a career 100% they are unable to really do self-care. Your passion is your motivator, the energy for your soul to keep moving and going. That’s my motivator — it pushes me and makes me feel alive,” Kabeer said.
After acting in 13 films, shorts, commercials and video games and working as a producer on 10 other projects, Kabeer has certainly gotten his name out, but he said his most meaningful role was as a police officer in “The After Math,” a short produced in 2017.
“I got to learn about sign language, and I had a wife in the role who was deaf. I had to learn enough sign language to speak my lines. It had an intense message about modern affairs [and] certain forms of violence and brutality,” Kabeer said, wearing his blue button-up shirt from the film.
Kabeer credits his interest in acting in part to his mother, who performed in several stage plays when she was a child. He finds that his style of acting gives him a unique kind of empathetic experience in becoming another person.
“One thing I’m pretty good at doing is I’m a good character actor. I wish I got more roles where I could change my accents. I imagine what this character would do. Who is this character? Give them a backstory. I become that person. People are complex. Everyone has a story,” he said.
When not acting, Kabeer shares his passion for education with his students at his former school, TECH Freire Charter School in Philadelphia, where he teaches algebra and special education.
“Acting is such a great support — teaching is kind of a performance. Teaching and acting have a performance element,” Kabeer said.
Kabeer explained what he enjoys most about teaching: “When the student needs support in order to succeed, [when] I’m able to help them get what they need and advocate for them. Every time we work together as a team, we succeed.”
While academics and career choices are important, college is about more than that, Kabeer said.
At first, he struggled to find and connect with other young Jews. Then he joined Tribe 12, an organization that helps Jews in their 20s and 30s get involved with the Jewish community in Philadelphia and form lifelong friendships and connections.
“I love being with elders, too. I get a lot of wisdom from them, but there’s a great benefit of being around people closer to your age. You have a lot in common, including the identity of being Jewish,” Kabeer said.
Kabeer was bar mitzvahed at Temple Sinai in Cinnaminson, N.J. two years ago after becoming more involved with the local Jewish community. During the pandemic, he began attending virtual services at Raim Ahuvim in Philadelphia.
Since joining Tribe 12, he has found himself engaged in multiple retreats and connected with study partners.
So, what does the future hold?
“I’m going to keep growing. I’ve been in school, I don’t leave. I’m seeing other things in the future,” Kabeer said. “[It] could be law school, ambassadorship, health care. But ultimately, whatever I’m doing, it’s going to be supporting humanity.”