Sunday, April 19, 2015

Minnesota

The Latest News about Somalis in Minnesota.
Wararkii ugu danbeeyay ee Soomaalida ku nool gobolka Minnesoota.

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Screen shot 2015-02-24 at 3.50.04 AMYoutubeKeith Ellison, U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th congressional district discusses Violent Extremism on MSNBC’s NOW With Alex Wagner

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the program stigmatizes the Muslim community.
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the program stigmatizes the Muslim community.
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the program stigmatizes the Muslim community.

MinnPost — The Twin Cities’ Somali-American community and religious leaders are divided over an anti-terrorism initiative that aims to deter young Muslims from enlisting with the Islamic State and other violent extremist groups.

Even while a delegation of local officials heads to the White House for a Wednesday conference about the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program, other local leaders plan to hold a press conference Tuesday afternoon to raise concerns about the same program.

At the Tuesday news conference in Minneapolis, representatives from various mosques and Muslim organizations in the state will outline several recommendations on how they think the CVE pilot program would best serve the community. One of their key recommendations: that the program be independent from the influences of all law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, the Department of Justice and the National Counterterrorism Center.

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the program stigmatizes the Muslim community. “The Department of Homeland Security is not known to be providing funds to do after-school programs,” Hussein, who is organizing the press conference, told MinnPost last month. “There are other organizations that do that.”

“We don’t want police, especially law enforcement agencies — we don’t want them to be doing after-school programs because their job is to investigate, their job is not to run after-school programs or to monitor after-school programs,” he continued.

Speculation about the program and consequences for those who participate in it have dominated the conversations within Minneapolis’ Somali community for weeks. Though the program expands social services for Somali-American youth, there are also fears that information collected from youth participants will be used for surveillance and investigation purposes.

Many in the community grew cautious after news reports about two law enforcement outreach programs in the Twin Cities were used to gather intelligence. U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger, however, said that CVE will have nothing to do with surveillance gathering.

Luger has recently reached out to Minnesota’s Somali activists, leaders and imams as he promoted the program in the community. He met with members of the Somali community publicly and privately to listen to accounts of the disappearances of some of the 15 Somali-Americans believed to have gone to Syria in recent months to join Islamic State, the terrorist organization.

On Wednesday, Luger is expected to unfold details of the plan for the initiative during theCountering Violent Extremism conference in Washington, D.C. Fifteen Twin Cities delegates will accompany Lugar to the conference, which is focused on seeking strategies to avert U.S. citizens from joining ISIS and other terrorist organizations.

The delegates attending the conference include Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau; her St. Paul counterpart, Tom Smith; Rick Thornton, FBI Special Agent in Charge; Abdi Warsame, Minneapolis City Council Member; Rich Stanek, Hennepin County Sheriff; Abdisalam Adam, Minneapolis mosque leader; Mohamed and Abdi Farah, co-founders and leaders of Ka Joog.

Ibrahim Hirsi can be reached at ihirsi@minnpost.com. Follow him on Twitter at @IHirsi

Congress in Support of Somalia

Congress in Support of Somalia

(MPR NEWS) Members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation are among those calling for a meeting with Obama administration officials to discuss an emergency plan to restore money transfers to Somalia.

Lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry to address how Somalis can safely send money back to their home country.

Last week, Merchants Bank of California closed the accounts of Somali-American money service businesses.

Mohamed Idris, executive director of the Columbia Heights-based American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa, says the move cut off a financial lifeline to many in Somalia.

“This is the backbone of Somali economy,” Idris said. “And for sure it will have a devastating effect if intervention [does] not occur.”

The letter requesting an emergency plan was signed by U.S. representatives Keith Ellison and Erik Paulsen, as well as senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken.

Ava Ramberg and Kelly Heller helped shape a boarding school in Somalia. (Courtesy photo)

Star Tribune

Ava Ramberg and Kelly Heller helped shape a boarding school in Somalia. (Courtesy photo)
Ava Ramberg and Kelly Heller helped shape a boarding school in Somalia. (Courtesy photo)

When Ava Ramberg and Kelly Heller arrived in the autonomous Somaliland region of Somalia in 2011, they planned to teach for a year. Within weeks, the Twin Cities natives knew they’d stay longer.

The pair helped shape a boarding school recently launched by an East Coast hedge fund manager with half a million dollars of his own money. At the Abaarso School of Science and Technology, Ramberg and Heller struggled to get the knack of teaching — and saw students land full rides to selective colleges.

“There was a kind of addiction in knowing we had a lot to contribute,” said Ramberg, who stayed three years and oversees the school’s finances from New York.

In 2011, both women were recent college graduates: Ramberg of the University of Minnesota, Heller of the University of Wisconsin. Postings on a site that lists international nonprofit jobs caught their eye. For school founder Jonathan Starr, Somaliland was full of potential: more stable than much of the war-ravaged country, but sorely lacking in infrastructure.

For the Minnesotans, the new jobs were tough. New to teaching, they had to draw out shy, reticent newcomers to the school. They faced local mistrust of foreigners.

But the students won them over, said Heller, now in grad school at Columbia University: “We came to care for them so incredibly much.” One student read two English dictionaries cover to cover. Pupils, some of whom had lost parents in the war, pleaded for extra homework and scarfed down lunches to get back to studying.

The women found Minnesota to be an instant icebreaker. The state is known for its Somali community, which has chipped in to pay for Abaarso students’ tuition.

More than 30 students have moved on to colleges worldwide, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Most will be back, Ramberg said: “When students come to us, it is ingrained in them they are the future of their country.”

Mila Koumpilova (612) 673-4781

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MyFox9

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MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) – Reports on social media indicate another Minnesotan may have died fighting for ISIS in Syria.

A Twitter user who is known to have connections to al-Shabaab in Somalia, claims the man was killed during a recent U.S.-backed offensive in the Syrian city of Kobane. On Twitter the militant said, “Allahu Akbar (God is Great), a young Somali brother I used to know back in Minnesota got Martyred in Kobane.”

The Twitter user identifies the dead man only as “Yusuf,” and says Yusuf’s older brother is with him in Somalia.

‘We believe he’s a recruiter’

“This is someone (Yusuf) we’ve been following for some time,” said Omar Jamal, a Minnesota Somali community leader with the group American Friends of Somalia. “We believe he’s a recruiter and may’ve even purchased tickets.”

Jamal said Yusuf is believed to have left Minnesota in June shortly after another man, Abdullahi Yusuf, attempted to leave on May 28, but was intercepted by FBI agents at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. Abdullahi Yusuf, 18, is in custody and was indicted last month with another Minnesotan, Abdi Nur, 22, for providing material support for the terrorist organization ISIS. Nur is believed to be in Syria fighting for ISIS. The FBI says there is no evidence he has returned to the United States.

FBI investigating

FBI spokesperson Kyle Loven said the agency is aware of our report and they’re looking into it, but can neither confirm nor deny that another Minnesotan has died fighting for ISIS in Syria.




Who is the Twitter user?

The Twitter user who disclosed Yusuf’s death, goes by the name “Miski” and sources tell Fox 9 News they believe he’s the same “Miski” identified in a federal indictment as Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan. Hassan was indicted in August 2008 of traveling from Minnesota to Somalia to join al-Shabaab. He remains a fugitive from justice.

Federal prosecutors said last month that Hassan (aka Miski) had contact with Minnesotans who had traveled to Syria to fight for ISIS. According to the federal indictment against Abdi Nur, Hassan allegedly communicated through Facebook from Somalia with Nur in Syria.

“Us brother from mpls wanted to know how many you guys are back there in sham (Syria/Iraq)?,” Hassan asked last August in a Facebook communication to Nur. From Syria, Nur replied, “Only three of us the others there still working making hijra (journey).”

In a conversation that illustrated Jihadist connections between Syria, Somalia, and Minnesota, Hassan (aka Miski) told Nur:

“Being connected in Jihad make you stronger and you can all help each other by fulfilling the duties that Allah swt put over you… Like us in Somalia the brothers from mpls are well connected so try to do the same… It is something we have learned after 6 years in Jihhad (in Somalia).”

According to the indictment, Hassan (aka Miski) tells Nur: “Jihad teaches you to have as much connection as you can from other Jihadi fronts. That’s some lessons we got the past 6 years.”

Dool Salat (left) and Ben Warne have worked together to start Reliant Transportation, a non-emergency medical transportation company serving the seven-county area. (Photo: Jason Wachter, jwachter@stcloudtimes.com PHOTOS)

St Cloud Times

Dool Salat (left) and Ben Warne have worked together to start Reliant Transportation, a non-emergency medical transportation company serving the seven-county area. (Photo: Jason Wachter, jwachter@stcloudtimes.com PHOTOS)
Dool Salat (left) and Ben Warne have worked together to start Reliant Transportation, a non-emergency medical transportation company serving the seven-county area. (Photo: Jason Wachter, jwachter@stcloudtimes.com PHOTOS)

Synergy can happen in business when two people work together and the result is greater than if either had the same plans on their own.

It happens in many circumstances, but it’s rare — if not unique — in Central Minnesota in the case of Reliant Transportation.

The principals in the company include Dool Salat, who came to the United States from Somalia in 2007, and Ben Warne, who grew up in Perham and is working toward an accounting degree at St. Cloud State University.

Their backgrounds are seemingly a world apart. Yet, since the two have joined forces, their enterprise has been growing and they’ve added several contracts for non-emergency medical transportation this year. Their staff has grown to five, and they use 30 independent contractors to deliver clients to various appointments.

“We’re capable of more than 100 rides a day,” said Salat, 32, who started Reliant Transportation by himself in 2010. “But I don’t see us as being limited. Now that we’ve gotten together, we have the ability to expand and we’re looking at that. With the areas around Minnesota we’re looking at, our goal is to someday soon have a couple thousand per day.”

A map of the state of Minnesota is on one wall of their headquarters at 600-25th Ave. S in St. Cloud. The map has circles drawn around potential expansion sites.

They can trace the growth back to a chance meeting a couple of years ago when they lived at Grand River Estates.

“I was with a group of my friends playing pool and Dool was with a group of his friends eating pizza and they got to playing with us, too,” said Warne, whose father, Darrell, also became a partner in the company when it reorganized last January. “We got to know each other and kind of hit it off.”

Warne used his accounting background to help Salat figure out some payroll and compliance issues.

But they were still just friends until last year, when Salat wanted to take a three-month vacation to return to Africa. Who did he ask to run operations in his absence? None other than Ben Warne.

“When I came back and saw the excellent job he did, we sat down and talked,” Salat said. “I’d been waiting to find someone like me, the right person to bring in and help run the business.

“When I started, I had been a driver for three years in St. Cloud for another company, managing the Willmar and St. Cloud areas,” Salat added. “I wanted to go on my own and so I went down the checklist of what I had to do, one by one. I bought three vehicles and and I was hustling by myself to keep it going.”

Salat said he was unable to go after transportation contracts because he was licensed to only provide access transportation services, such as a bus or taxi. Since collaborating with Ben Warne, they have taken steps to qualify for special transportation services. That means they transport people who, because of physical or mental impairment, are unable to safely use a common carrier. The driver provides assistance, also referred to as a “door-through-door” or “station-to-station” service.

The company has three vans, with two of them capable of STS service.

Salat and Warne try to take that a step further, however. They strive to set up a client with a driver who can speak their language. In addition to the Somali population, Reliant Transportation can accommodate people who speak Spanish, Russian, Hmong, Oromo and Swahili.

“There are communities, even within St. Cloud, where we hope to bridge the gap,” Warne said. “Getting to know Dool also has allowed me to learn another culture, and I think I’m better for that. I can go in the Mogadishu Mall now and say ‘hi’ to people and there’s no awkwardness.”

Salat said Warne has grown to like sambusa, a Somali recipe for a fried or baked pastry with spiced potatoes, onions, peas, lentils and sometimes meat — including ground lamb, ground beef or ground chicken.

“He knows everything about our culture,” Salat said of Ben Warne. “A lot of time when people come here, they get Americanized. But Ben has really made an effort to get to know my Somali friends and what we’re about. We trust each other and there’s a lot of things we can do together. Maybe we can set an example for more people to do the same.”

Finland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Star Tribune

Finland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs

HELSINKI — In Finland’s first court case where terror charges have been filed, three men and one woman have been given suspended sentences for collecting a small amount of money for an al-Qaida-linked militant group in Somalia

The Helsinki District Court said Friday the defendants collected a total of 3,200 euros ($3,900) to fund terrorist activities by the al-Shabab group in 2008-2011.

Three of them were given five-month suspended sentences. The fourth one, considered the organizer of the group, was given a suspended sentence of 16 months for recruiting members to al-Shabab, which is trying to create an Islamic state in Somalia. He was also sentenced for attempting to take children from Finland to a training camp of the militant group.

All the defendants are of Somali descent living in Finland.

Minnesota 4 CHARGED IN $4 MILLION GOV’T  BENEFITS SCAM

CBS Minnesota

Minnesota 4 CHARGED IN $4 MILLION GOV’T  BENEFITS SCAMMINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) –A former daycare operator is in jail while police search for her husband as part of a multimillion-dollar fraud investigation.

Yasmin Ali of Fridley and her husband, Ahmed Mohammed, are charged with felonies along with two other men — Joshua Miller of St. Paul and Jordan Smith of Cottage Grove.

Ali and Mohammed owned the Deqo Family Centers in St. Paul and Minneapolis, which provided daycare services to low-income families.

Minnesota offers child care payments for mothers who average 20 hours of work a week, with an income level that qualifies. The state pays the child care provider directly.

To get the payments, prosecutors say the Deqo Centers would recruit mothers, especially those with several children. If they didn’t have jobs, they could go on the daycare’s payroll, and they wouldn’t have to work nearly as much as the daycare was telling the government.

Ramsey County attorney John Choi calls it a complex scheme.

“The defendants provided counties with pay stubs overstating hours that were worked by the mothers,” Choi said. “In some cases, no wages were paid to the mothers, but pay stubs were created to make it appear as if wages had been paid.”

That money then was going to the company operated by Ali, Mohammed and Miller.

In just one ten-month period, the group allegedly took in more than $3 million in fraudulent payments.

Choi wouldn’t comment on what the group may have done with the millions, but he says officials are working to get the money back.

“I am a supporter of the safety net in our community,” Choi said. “And it’s very troubling and very disheartening to know that there are people in our community who would take advantage of those good intentions of our public.”

Choi says the investigation of one crime led to two others.

Investigators also found evidence of a similar scheme involving personal care attendants, which Smith allegedly took part in.

They also allege the group committed tax evasion by not reporting all the profits they made through their illegal activities.

Mohamed Barre and his children pose for a photo on October 15, 2014, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Pictured (from left to right) are Ilias, age 12, Ilhan, age 9, Issa , age 11, Barre, Ilham, age 9, Ismael, age 13, and Ishaq, age 10

MPR News

For years, Mohamed Barre has been taking photographs of the Twin Cities Somali community. The Somali refugee's goal is to create an archive of immigrant life to share will his American-born children.
For years, Mohamed Barre has been taking photographs of the Twin Cities Somali community. The Somali refugee’s goal is to create an archive of immigrant life to share will his American-born children.

Years ago, Mohamed Barre began snapping pictures of Somali life in Minnesota just so his kids could see what it was like for the first refugees.
But as he photographed everything from mosques to halal markets, Barre found he’d built a rich archive of Somali-American life for everyone. What began as an amateur photographer’s tinkering grew into art.

On Saturday, he’ll host an exhibit of his images at Bottineau Commons in Minneapolis. Barre, 50, describes the photos as “a good excuse” to get Somalis and non-Somalis together.

“I want everyone to get to know my community as well as their neighbors, to know more who they are and ask questions that you somehow cannot ask at the playground, at the bus,” he said recently as he watched his children run around the soccer fields near their northeast Minneapolis apartment building. “You can come and ask me any question that relates about the community.”

Mohamed Barre and his children pose for a photo on October 15, 2014, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Pictured (from left to right) are Ilias, age 12, Ilhan, age 9, Issa , age 11, Barre, Ilham, age 9, Ismael, age 13, and Ishaq, age 10
Mohamed Barre and his children pose for a photo on October 15, 2014, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Pictured (from left to right) are Ilias, age 12, Ilhan, age 9, Issa , age 11, Barre, Ilham, age 9, Ismael, age 13, and Ishaq, age 10

Barre came to the United States as a refugee in 1995. He lived in Virginia then moved to Minnesota in 1998. He met his wife, Naema Ali, also a Somali refugee, when they were both in college at St. Mary’s University in Minneapolis. Their six kids, ages 9 to 13, were all born in Minnesota.

It’s important for the younger generation to know the way things were for people who fled war-torn Somalia, Barre said. But while some Somali refugees focus on returning to a renewed Somalia, Barre says that’s the last thing on his mind.

“We are raising children that were born here. Few of them will ever go back,” said Barre, a child-support officer at the Hennepin County Department of Health and Human Services. Immersing them completely in American life will let them “integrate and understand this is their country.”

That doesn’t mean he wants his children completely disconnected from their heritage. When asked, they can rattle off facts about Somalia, their parents’ homeland.

“They have dangerous animals, like hyenas and lions,” says 10-year-old Ishaq.

“A lot of beaches and mango trees,” Issa, who’s 11, chimes in.

The children are more comfortable, though, with knock-knock jokes and NFL scores. Occasionally they burst into random pop culture refrains, like when they sing the theme from the “Cops” TV show.

Barre and his wife wouldn’t have it any other way. “They owe a sense of belonging to somewhere and it has to be here in Minnesota,” he said. “I have to give them full freedom for them to exercise and understand the culture they belong to.”

“I want them to understand who I am, what my values are, the cultures that I had,” he said. “But I also want to give them the opportunity to understand their culture so they can choose how to blend the two.”

When they’re older, he hopes they’ll look at his photos and see the faces of the Somali refugees who helped make their lives in Minnesota possible.

“I always tell them, ‘Don’t be like me, a newcomer,” he said. “You were born here. You live here.”

America Here i come Somalia

MINNPOST

America Here i come SomaliaThe story of Hamse Warfa begins in a place not unfamiliar to many immigrants in Minnesota: Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia. But where that story culminates (at least for now), is quite unique: with a memoir Warfa released last month: “America Here I Come: A Somali Refugee’s Quest for Hope.”

Growing up, Warfa was financially better off than the boys he played soccer within Mogadishu: His father, Mohamed, was a livestock trader, and his mother, Hindisa, ran a clothing retail business. Together, they had a private driver who took care of their needs and those of their 14 children, including Warfa, the 12th born — a luxury many Somali families didn’t have at the time. “My family lived quite comfortably in an affluent part of Mogadishu,” he said. “I had anything I needed as a child.”

When the civil war erupted in 1991, however, the Warfa family’s luxurious lifestyle disappeared. After armed groups ousted the military government of President Mohamed Siad Barre, the country collapsed into anarchy. Killing, looting and rape came to define Mogadishu.

Warfa and his family escaped to a Kenyan refugee camp, where they faced series of tribulations for three years. Food was scarce. So was clean water. Warfa spent days and nights under a small tent. There were also violent crimes and armed robberies. Organized gang members, taking advantage of the lack of security, roamed the camp. 

“We felt like our dignity was taken away,” said Warfa of life in the camp. “We were proud in our country, working and getting quality education.”

Road to the United States

After three years in the camps, Warfa and his family eventually arrived in Denver, Colorado, in 1994, thanks to the Church World Services, which arranged the departure through the Family Reunification Process.

Warfa faced alienation and a language barrier when he first arrived in the United States as a teenager. He was one of a few people of color at South High School in Denver — and struggled with the American culture. Indeed, even though he qualified for the free and reduced-price meals, he avoided eating at the school.

“The biggest challenge we encountered was that we came with the perception that any food in America contains pork and alcohol,” he said. “So I didn’t eat there because most of the food, in my mind, had pork or alcohol.”

And he didn’t know enough English to ask about the types of food the school served. So he didn’t eat there for more than a month, he said, feeling isolated and unwanted. “We didn’t feel welcomed. As much as the school administration tried, we still felt lonely and out of place.”

While still new and barely speaking English, Warfa had to find a job so he could contribute to the family’s expenses. Before he learned the meaning of “interview,” Warfa one day was called for a job interview at McDonald’s. He went to the interview wearing jeans and boots, eager to win a dishwasher position.

When the manager asked him why he was interested in working at McDonald’s, Warfa’s response was swift and honest: “Because I need money.” He got the job. 

Searching for Somali community

Immigration services often assign refugees and immigrants to specific states according to where their sponsors live. In Warfa’s case, his brother, who supported the family, lived in Denver with his wife and children. 

After a little over a year, however, Warfa and his family sought a more diverse space, where they could feel a sense of community, a sense of belonging. That led to San Diego, which at that point had the largest Somali population in the country.

Warfa and his family rented two adjacent apartments in City Heights, a neighborhood the San Diego City Council declared a “state of emergency” because of excessive criminal activities, including drugs, shootings and prostitution. But City Heights also had the things the Warfa family longed for: a diverse population of African-Americans, Somalis, Latinos and Hmong. 

Tensions between African-American and Somali students

While attending Crawford High School in City Heights, Warfa witnessed melees breaking out between African-American and Somali students — in some cases, as many as 100 people would be involved in the fight, he said.

In his book, Warfa explores the cause of the fights between African-Americans and Somalis: “One would have thought since they have the same origin and color, there would be fewer problems between them,” he writes.“It was argued that African-Americans felt that Somalis didn’t understand the great sacrifices that African-Americans had made so that future generations could live in liberty. As far as the African-Americans were concerned, the Somalis seemed to enjoy the freedom with abandon, while they hadn’t contributed in any way to its attainment.”

Yet the many obstacles Warfa faced upon coming to the United States only seemed to strengthen his desire to become a valuable member of the Somali community.

He would eventually go on to get a bachelor’s degree in political science from San Diego State University and a master’s of science in organizational management and leadership from Springfield College. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in public administration at Hamline University, and works for the Eden Prairie-based Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, serving as a program officer.

‘America Here I Come’

With the Somali population increasing in Minnesota and states across the country, Warfa often contemplated ways he could promote cultural understanding between Somali immigrants and their American neighbors.

One of those ways came to fruition in late November, when Warfa published “America Here I Come: A Somali Refugee’s Quest for Hope,” a memoir detailing the swift change that came to his family’s middle-class lifestyle when the civil war broke out in Somalia and the tribulations that followed him in Kenyan refugee camps.

For immigrants, the book is a case study in the value of perseverance. For native-born Minnesotans, the book provides a thorough introduction to the rich history of Somalia — and a wider understanding of the thousands of Somali immigrants who are now part of their community.

Warfa will hold a book-launch event on December 13 at 3 p.m. at the Cowles Auditorium at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. 

 

Sisterhood Boutique was started by group of young Somali women who noticed how much fun their brothers and male classmates had running a coffee shop at the Brian Coyle Community Center in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood.

MinnPost

Sisterhood Boutique was started by group of young Somali women who noticed how much fun their brothers and male classmates had running a coffee shop at the Brian Coyle Community Center in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood.
Sisterhood Boutique was started by group of young Somali women who noticed how much fun their brothers and male classmates had running a coffee shop at the Brian Coyle Community Center in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood.

At first glance, the new Sisterhood Boutique on Riverside Avenue next door to Augsburg College and the University of Minnesota’s West Bank campus looks like many other spunky startups around town.

It’s packed with racks of blouses, jackets, dresses, slacks and shorts, displays of boots, shoes and jewelry, shelves of purses and bags, a vase of sunflowers and scarves hanging on the walls. The selection ranges in style from contemporary to retro to East African. This is clearly the work of women who have applied their talents to transform an empty storefront into a destination for shoppers looking for fashions at affordable prices.

All true. But there’s more to the Sisterhood story, which defies all the usual expectations. It was started by group of young Somali women who noticed how much fun their brothers and male classmates had running a coffee shop at the Brian Coyle Community Center in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood.

“We felt like there were not a lot of activities for girls in the community,” remembers Khadra Fiqi, an assistant at the store who was a Minneapolis South High School student at the time. “So we had a meeting of girls to talk about what we wanted to do. There’s a strength in girls and we wanted to do something for our community to create more opportunity.”

They agreed to start a women’s clothing store, and quickly came up with the name Sisterhood of the Traveling Scarf, based partly on the movie and novel “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” And based partly on the fact that, as Fiqi says, “scarves are something that unite all women, and we are a sisterhood of women.” 

“We went around to other stores to see what businesses are like,” recalls Fiqi, now a first-year student at Metro State University, “and we learned a lot about commitment — if you’re committed to something you can make it happen. Women with passion and power can help ourselves and help our community.”

From sorting to selling

Fiqi explains that she and her colleagues do everything it takes to run the business, “from sorting the clothes, tagging them, cleaning the store, being at the front as a cashier. I always thought of myself as a science person, not a business person. But now I am going to minor in business in college.”

The experience of opening the store helped Fiqi feel more at home in Minneapolis. “I was really surprised about all the support from people we don’t really know — people at Augsburg College and around the community.”

Stella Richardson, a management major at Augsburg, was one of those who pitched into help launch the boutique. While still in high school, she had started the Express Yourself Clothing store on Selby Avenue in St. Paul as part of an after-school youth program. “I told the girls about my experience and came to their meetings. As they were opening the store, I taught some business classes to them at the Brian Coyle Center.”

“They asked all the same questions I was asking when I started my store,”  Richardson says. She notes that their boutique was even funded by one of the same organizations that financed her business, Sundance Family Foundation. Other funders of the Sisterhood Boutique were Augsburg College, Fairview Health Services, Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, the Marbrook Foundation and the Women Investing in the Next Generation (WINGs) Fund of the Greater Twin Cities United Way.

Augsburg students helped them devise a business plan, implement a marketing plan and design a logo, and offered informal advice on how to attract young customers studying and working on the nearby campuses of Augsburg, the U of M, St. Catherine University and the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital.

“The store is changing the way the community perceives girls — in Somali culture girls are the most protected part of the community,” says Amano Dube, director of the Brian Coyle Community Center. “This project shows what they can do on their own.”

A breakthrough

Dube said that when a group of local leaders involved with the Faith in the City initiative toured the neighborhood — including Rulon Stacey, CEO of Fairview Health Services, which owns a brick storefront on Riverside Avenue that is adjacent to its University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital — “Augsburg President Paul Pribbenow brought them to the Brian Coyle Center and I took them into the leadership training class with the young people, who told them about the store.”

“Mary Laurel True [Augsburg’s director of community engagement] was leading the tour, and she suddenly announces that the girls would really like to have that building on Riverside Avenue,” remembers Pribbenow. Twenty-four hours later the president of Fairview called Pribbenow and said the boutique could have the building for free.

“We had the space available,” Stacey says, “and want to be a meaningful partner in the neighborhood. We’re really excited about it.”

Stacey was on hand at the boutique’s Grand Opening last summer, posing for a photo with the young proprietors in front of shop windows artfully displaying sundresses. Indeed, it was an all-out community event. Amano Dube, Mary Laurel True, Stella Richardson and a number of young shoppers were part of the celebration.

“I’m really excited about it,” said shopper Elena Eveslage. “It’s a good place to get good, cheap clothes, and a great opportunity for young women to learn business skills.” 

20 trained so far

Fadumo Mohamed, a student at Minneapolis Southwest High School, was part of planning meetings and jumped at the chance to work at the store. “This is my first real job. It’s really good here, getting closer to people in the community, working with people my own age, learning about business. It will all be on my résumé.”

Store manager Laurine Chang, who is also a youth social entrepreneur coordinator for Pillsbury United Communities, notes that 20 young women have been trained so far to work in the store. For three months they “learn about leadership, empowerment, personal and professional development, how to engage in the community, financial literacy, customer service, time management and business management.”

“The girls themselves felt there was a need for more opportunities for women in the neighborhood,” Chang says. “This project really is young people taking the initiative by responding to what the community needs.” 

- Bartamaha

Reuters

- Bartamaha

WASHINGTON – A 20-year-old Minnesota woman was charged on Tuesday with stealing a friend’s passport to travel to Syria, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.

The criminal complaint alleged that Yusra Ismail, of St. Paul, used the stolen U.S. passport to fly to Amsterdam and Norway last August.

She contacted her family several days later and told them she was in “Sham,” a term used to describe the area controlled by Islamic State, the militant group that has captured territory in Syria and Iraq and carried out gruesome executions of civilians and foreigners.

Prosecutors said there is no record of Ismail, who is not a U.S. citizen, returning to the United States. She had booked a return ticket, according to the complaint, but there is no record of any traveler using that ticket.

U.S. authorities for years have been concerned about the number of young Somali-Americans traveling from the Minneapolis area, which has a large community of Somali expatriates, to join al Shabaab, a militant Al Qaeda affiliate based in Somalia.

The new case comes one week after the same office charged two Minnesota men of Somali ancestry, ages 18 and 20, with supporting Islamic State.

Last summer, FBI officials said they had begun tracking a trickle of Somali-Americans from the Twin Cities area to Syria in general and to Islamic State-held areas in particular.

FBI Director James Comey said last month his agency was tracking close to 150 Americans it believed had traveled to Syria. A federal official said authorities believe about a dozen Americans were fighting there with the Islamic State.

(Reporting by Aruna Viswanatha; editing by Gunna Dickson)

Degan Ali, a Somali-American humanitarian, describes herself on Twitter as a "social justice activist, Muslima."

NPR

Degan Ali, a Somali-American humanitarian, describes herself on Twitter as a "social justice activist, Muslima."
Degan Ali, a Somali-American humanitarian, describes herself on Twitter as a “social justice activist, Muslima.”

In 2011, drought hit Somalia hard, triggering a famine that ultimately killed some 260,000 people. Now, after a poor rainy season, the Food and Agriculture Organization is warning that the country could be on the brink of another famine.

To find out more about the current situation in East Africa, we spoke with Degan Ali, the Somali-American executive director of Adeso (African Development Solutions), a Nairobi-based humanitarian and development organization focusing on aid, education — particularly among nomadic populations — and community-based economic growth. Formerly known as Horn Relief, the organization was founded in the early 1990s by Ali’s mother, Fatima Jibrell, in response to their homeland’s devastating civil war.

Adeso does work in Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan. Ali spoke with Goats and Soda earlier this month.

Let’s talk about your homeland, Somalia. It’s been three years since the devastating famine that struck in 2011. How are things now?

Somalia is just getting out of its second famine in recent years, the first one being in the early ’90s. We still have a situation where there are millions of people in south Somalia and parts of the north who are food-insecure. There are still more than a million internally displaced people. So the message to the international community would be that yes, things did improve and we left famine conditions in 2013, but we still have an unacceptable number of people who are hungry and food-insecure. We need to start addressing some of the root causes of these problems.

What are some of those root causes?

In the north, it’s cycles of drought and hunger that are linked to environmental degradation. Poor rangeland management and poor natural resource planning — because there was no government for 20years — as well as larger issues like climate change are expanding the deserts in Africa and all over the world.

It was [my mother's] idea to start putting in these very low-tech physical structures — basically, strategically placed rocks — to harvest rainwater and move it in a way that it spreads out andregenerates the grasslands. We’ve had so much success with these rock dams since 2001 that the European Commission came to us a few years ago and said they wanted to work with us to scale it up. So now we’re implementing a 14 million-euro program on that kind of physical rehabilitation of the rangeland.

What lessons do you think the international community could learn from Somalia’s 2011 famine?

In Somalia, 260,000 people died in the famine, over a billion dollars was spent trying to save them, and now we still have more than 300,000 people living in refugee camps in Dadaab that we are spending money on every single day. If we had only spent half of that money on predictable cash transfers, a safety net program could have supported the same households, in their homes and villages, in the breadbasket of Somalia. That kind of social protection — predictable cash transfers — is very simple, but it requires a new way of thinking.

You think aid organizations should simply give people cash?

Yes, we believe that if the bottom 5 to 10 percent of society in Somalia had more predictable resources, they could make longer-term decisions that would rebuild their asset base and make them more resilient.

For example, say you’re a Somali woman, a farmer, experiencing the drought of 2011. And you know that you can get $30 a month for two years for staying in your home. Or you could trek hundreds of miles, risking your children’s lives, to try to reach a refugee camp that you think might exist somewhere out there. What would you do? Of course you would hunker down and try to get through the drought, surviving on your predictable $30-a-month transfer.

What’s wrong with just sending food to hungry people?

In many cases, it’s not an issue of food availability. It’s an issue of purchasing power and keeping the local economy going. And it’s an issue of empowerment. That word gets used a lot by people who still want to maintain control and tell aid recipients what they need. But what it should ultimately mean is that the person who receives the aid is given as much dignity and control as possible.

But many of us face this dilemma when we see a needy person on the street. If we give them money, how do we know they’ll really use it for food?

If you were in the same situation, wouldn’t you want people to feel that you are a responsible person? And all the evidence suggests that most of the recipients of these cash transfers make very responsible decisions. All the monitoring and evaluation data indicates that people use the money to purchase not only needed goods and services, but also to pay off debts — which is really interesting. That means they value their social capital and are thinking about the long term, not just their immediate needs. The debt is for meeting immediate needs, which is the normal cycle for pastoralists: They purchase goods during the dry season for food and water on credit, but then they need to pay it back during the rainy season.

I noticed on your Twitter profile that you describe yourself as a “social justice activist, Muslima.” How are those connected?

I think my religion heavily informs both my values and the work that I do. In Islam, there is a core principle of mandatory charitable giving called zakat. I think in English you call it tithing. Every single Muslim has to give 2.5 percent of his or her wealth — if they’re not using it — to support orphans, hungry and needy people.

Wow, 2.5 percent. If all of us did that …

Exactly. There would be no hunger.

Two women wipe away tears during a gathering to honor Adullahi Anshoor,64, of Brooklyn Park, who was killed in his native Somalia after returning to his homeland to help rebuilt it and was fatally shot on November 17, 2014. Residents of Afton Alps Apartments gathered to honor the man who worked there over a decade. These women asked to not be indentified. (Pioneer Press: Sherri LaRose-Chiglo)

TWIN CITIES DAILY PLANET

Two women wipe away tears during a gathering to honor Adullahi Anshoor,64, of Brooklyn Park, who was killed in his native Somalia after returning to his homeland to help rebuilt it and was fatally shot on November 17, 2014. Residents of Afton Alps Apartments gathered to honor the man who worked there over a decade. These women asked to not be indentified. (Pioneer Press: Sherri LaRose-Chiglo)
Two women wipe away tears during a gathering to honor Adullahi Anshoor,64, of Brooklyn Park, who was killed in his native Somalia after returning to his homeland to help rebuilt it and was fatally shot on November 17, 2014. Residents of Afton Alps Apartments gathered to honor the man who worked there over a decade. These women asked to not be indentified. (Pioneer Press: Sherri LaRose-Chiglo)

A group of more than 75 people gathered at the Afton View Apartments in St. Paul to honor a man who gave his heart to the Twin Cities and his life for his native country.

Abdullahi Ali Anshoor, 64, of Brooklyn Park worked as property manager for the Battle Creek-area apartment complex for about 14 years, said co-worker Amy Berger, who helped organize the gathering.

He was killed Monday in Mogadishu, Somalia, when armed militants from the Islamic extremist group al-Shabaab stopped his vehicle and sprayed it with bullets, police Capt. Mohamed Hussein told the Associated Press.

Abdisalam Adam, a teacher in St. Paul and imam at Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Minneapolis, speaks at a memorial Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014, for Abdullahi Ali Anshoor at the Afton View Apartments in St. Paul. Anshoor, 64, of Brooklyn Park, was killed by militants in his native Somalia last week after returning to help rebuild Mogadishu. (Pioneer Press: Sherri LaRose-Chiglo)
Abdisalam Adam, a teacher in St. Paul and imam at Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Minneapolis, speaks at a memorial Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014, for Abdullahi Ali Anshoor at the Afton View Apartments in St. Paul. Anshoor, 64, of Brooklyn Park, was killed by militants in his native Somalia last week after returning to help rebuild Mogadishu. (Pioneer Press: Sherri LaRose-Chiglo)

Trained as an urban planner and civil engineer, Anshoor returned there last year with his wife to help the Mogadishu government with planning and drainage systems.

“We are here to express our condolences to his family and to his friends,” said Said Ali of East African Community Link. “He was a great man. He was a father, a son … and the community at large is mourning his death.”

Abdisalam Adam, a teacher at St. Paul’s Central High School and imam at Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Minneapolis, used to teach at Highwood Hills Elementary School, which is across the street from the Afton View Apartments.

He and Anshoor, who was well-known in the Somali-American community, often worked together on educational issues, Adam said.

Adam encouraged the group not to be discouraged by Anshoor’s killing.

“His death should not scare us,” but rather provide more determination to rebuild Somalia, he said.

The gathering included Somali-American residents of the apartment complex as well as former colleagues of Anshoor’s.

Debra Godland said she worked with Anshoor until 2011.

“Anshoor is the most loyal and trustworthy gentleman I have ever had the pleasure of knowing,” she said. He was instrumental in organizing National Night Out get-togethers at the apartments and “thought of all of you as his family.”

Anshoor was born in Mogadishu and graduated from college there. He received a scholarship to study in the United States, and earned a master’s degree from California State University in Fresno in 1986, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Rep. Keith Ellison fires up the crowd at the DFL headquarters at the Minneapolis Hilton Hotel on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. (Pioneer Press: John Autey)
Rep. Keith Ellison fires up the crowd at the DFL headquarters at the Minneapolis Hilton Hotel on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. (Pioneer Press: John Autey)
Rep. Keith Ellison fires up the crowd at the DFL headquarters at the Minneapolis Hilton Hotel on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. (Pioneer Press: John Autey)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Voters are sending Democrat Keith Ellison back to Congress for a fifth term representing Minnesota’s urban 5th District.

Ellison defeated Republican businessman Doug Daggett and Independence Party candidate Lee Bauer, a machinist.

Ellison was the first Muslim elected to the U.S. House and the first black elected to Congress from Minnesota. He’s been a champion for progressive causes and speaks out frequently on Mideast and African issues.

The 5th District, which includes Minneapolis and several inner suburbs, is the most heavily Democratic congressional district in the state.

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Hani Jacobson is an OB-GYN nurse at CentraCare Health Plaza. She moved to America from Mogadishu, Somalia when she was eight years old. Photo: Kimm Anderson
Hani Jacobson is an OB-GYN nurse at CentraCare Health Plaza. She moved to America from Mogadishu, Somalia when she was eight years old. Photo: Kimm Anderson
Hani Jacobson is an OB-GYN nurse at CentraCare Health Plaza. She moved to America from Mogadishu, Somalia when she was eight years old. Photo: Kimm Anderson

It was 2005 and then 21-year-old Hani Jacobson was visiting family in St. Cloud.

The Somali-American’s stay was supposed to be temporary. But after filling in for her sister at her job at the Whitney Center, fate had other ideas.

“My first impression was she was beautiful, hard-working and smart,” said her husband Nathan Jacobson.

Nathan was volunteering at Whitney Center when the two met. He grew up in Borup and initially came to the area to attend St. Cloud State University.

Hani and Nathan wed in March 2007. They now live in a north St. Cloud home with their three children: a 6-year-old son named Gabriel, a 3-year-old daughter named Layla and a 1-year-old son named Elijah.

“My first impression of Nathan is that he was really caring to newcomers, especially people from my community,” Hani said. “He really cared about the new immigrants.”

Hani also noticed an opportunity to make a difference in St. Cloud’s growing Somali community.

She was born to an upper-middle class family in Mogadishu, Somalia, and escaped to refugee camps in Kenya when she was 7. It was 1991, and the Somali civil war had begun. She made it to the U.S. through the World Relief organization at age 9 in 1993 and grew up in an Atlanta suburb. Hani had also lived in Seattle and Nashville prior to coming to St. Cloud.

“I noticed there was a great need here for someone in the Somali community with an American education,” Hani said. “Where I grew up by Atlanta, the people (had) left way earlier in the civil war. Most were wealthier, from Mogadishu and had an educational background. It was way easier for us to start lives as Americans.

“Whereas the immigrants who are coming to St. Cloud now were more like villagers or kids that grew up or were born in refugee camps.”

Hani is now an OB-GYN nurse at CentraCare Health Plaza, working with women of all cultures. She previously worked with Somali students in the St. Cloud school district, and she helped teach Somalis English and basic computer skills at the Whitney Senior Center and the BRIDGE World Language Center in Waite Park.

Nathan teaches English as a Second Language courses at St. Cloud Technical & Community College.

“It’s funny because my husband is kind of more known than I am among Somali people,” Hani said.

Hani, who has worked regularly since she turned 16 to help support her parents and 11 siblings, accomplished a lifelong goal by attending college in St. Cloud.

While she’s sacrificed her initial goal of supervising childbirth so she can spend more time with her family, Hani said she enjoys her current job working with pregnant women.

But her life in the U.S. hasn’t always been as prosperous or as full of acceptance.

“Before the war, my dad worked really hard and we lived an upper-middle class life,” Hani said. “After coming to America we thought: ‘Everything is going to be great again. We are going to get our lives back.’

“But things were much harder than we anticipated.”

Hani’s family initially settled in Clarkston, Georgia, a popular relocation for the first wave of Somali civil war refugees.

“It was a predominately African-American community but they had never heard of Somalis or Somali people,” Hani said. “It was like we weren’t welcome.”

Hani said Somalis were often bullied, including her brother who was once beaten into a coma at school.

“Fortunately, as time went on things got better,” Hani said.

And after multiple stops and struggles, she’s found the American dream in St. Cloud.

Growing up in 2 cultures

When you ask Nathan and Hani’s 6-year-old son what his first name is, the answer depends on who is asking.

When it’s Nathan’s family from Borup or other English speakers asking, the son’s response is “Gabriel.”

When it’s Hani’s family from Mogadishu or members of the local Somali community, the son’s response is “Jibril,” which is the Arabic equivalent of Gabriel.

“He already knows the difference,” Hani said. “Lately he’s been noticing the two cultures.”

Nathan and Hani hope their son takes the most positive qualities from each culture.

Source: StCloud Times

minneapolis

minneapolisMinneapolis — Salah Ahmed wanted to become a cop ever since he moved to the United States from Egypt.
On the other hand, Abdiwahab Ali’s interests gravitated to law enforcement after 9/11 — several years after he moved from Somalia to Minnesota in 1995. After becoming a Minneapolis Police Department officer, he went on to help establish the Somali American Police Association.

Ahmed, who is originally from Somalia, reached his goal when he graduated from the police academy last year. In addition to being an officer for the Metro Transit Police Department, he now serves as SAPA’s vice chairman.

Founded in in 2012, SAPA helps Somali-Americans, like Ahmed, find their way into police forces across the nation.

The national organization has at least 10 members — all law enforcement officers — in the Twin Cities. They are working to stop potential recruitment of Somali-Americans by terrorist groups, like al-Shabab and the Islamic State, in the city’s Cedar-Riverside and Franklin Avenue neighborhoods.

Ahmed said he has ample opportunities to talk face to face with young people in the area and recognize early warning signs of recruitment.

SAPA has been successful so far, he said, citing a recent incident in which Cedar-Riverside residents were afraid a fellow mosque-goer was trying to recruit overseas fighters, so they called police.

“The Somali community is very educated about recruitment,” Ahmed said.

Voluntary community-police communication would be impossible without a diverse police force, Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington said.

“[Officers] meet probably once a month with elders from the Somali community to have an ongoing conversation about this concern we have that individuals are being recruited,” he said.

To help counteract and stop local terrorist influences, Ahmed said it’s important to have continued contact with organizations and neighborhood groups, like Mothers Against Youth Recruitment, which held an October meeting.

Harrington said multiple law enforcement agencies — including the state’s U.S. Attorney’s Office and the St. Paul Police Department — are coordinating to address the problem.

“What do you say to young people that are being told, ‘This is the right thing to do as a Muslim,’ or ‘This is the right thing to do as a Somali or as an African?’” Harrington said.

SAPA officers are role models for East African community members — especially among the youngest generations. They also have the added advantage of understanding Somali and Muslim customs, Harrington said, and are further relatable since most are near the age of those targeted by overseas organizations.

Harrington said the only way to foster trust between officers and the people they serve is to build a police department that reflects its communities.

“You don’t have to turn on the news more than a minute to see an example of what happens when there is a breakdown in that relationship between a police department and their community,” Harrington said.

With six to eight full- and part-time officers of Somali descent serving in the Metro Transit Police Department, Harrington said the department still has room for improvement — they’d like to recruit Somali women to the force.

“This is really just the beginning,” Harrington said. “I’m happy with it. I just can’t say I’m satisfied.”

According to Ali, St. Paul’s police department employs one female Somali-American, but she isn’t a sworn officer.

Minneapolis police Public Information Officer John Elder said MPD employs about a half a dozen Somali-American officers, which includes the nation’s first sergeant of Somali descent.

“Our Somali officers are really respected by the community, and … it’s a lot of fun to watch them work,” Elder said. “When they walk into a meeting, they’re like celebrities.”

He said their presence within MPD attracts esteem from both inside and outside the department.

“We’re looking for all members of the community, from all different communities, to come work for MPD,” Elder said. “We are yearning for diversity.”
Source: MNDaily

OUR OWN RELIGIOUSLY APPROPRIATE UNIFORMS

KMSP-TV

OUR OWN RELIGIOUSLY APPROPRIATE UNIFORMSMINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) -The Cedar Riverside Community School girls’ basketball team is asking for parents’ opinions about their new uniforms. The girls designed the options themselves to be both religiously appropriate according to Somali culture, with a little help from the University of Minnesota. Parents were invited to see the unveiling and share their thoughts Wednesday evening at the Brian Coyle Center.

On Wednesday nights, the gym at the Brian Coyle Center is “NBA” — no boys allowed. However, playing sports can be difficult for the girls, who are from East Africa, because they have to be covered from head to toe.

“Seeing them trip over their skirts, seeing them not be able to be safe and be active at the same time is really hard,” coach Jennifer Weber said.

That’s why the girls, with some help from grad students at the University of Minnesota, came up with several designs for new sports uniforms that are both culturally and religiously appropriate. Some even got to model the final four to get feedback from their parents and community members. The uniforms are made with wicking fabrics that move perspiration away from their bodies to keep them from overheating. Plus, since they’re designed for young girls, there was plenty of pink involved.

The G.I.R.L.S program received a grant from the Extension Service at the U of M to work on the designs and prototypes. Organizers hope to find women in the Somali community to sew the uniforms by next spring after the vote, then, they’ll have a community fashion show.

Source: KTSP

Eden Prairie Somalis

Eden Prairie Somalis

As an outer-ring, affluent suburb, Eden Prairie may seem an unlikely city to draw a growing refugee community. But 17 years ago, Somali-Americans like Asad Aliweyd moved there for its top-ranked schools, safe community and job opportunities.

Now, nearly two decades later, Eden Prairie has the third-largest Somali population in the Twin Cities, next to Minneapolis and St. Paul, according to the city, with an estimated 3,500 to 5,000 residents.

The Somali language is second only to English in Eden Prairie schools. The police department has its first Somali police reserve officer. And the city has Somali businesses, including a halal grocery store, and two mosques.

“Eden Prairie is more welcoming to Somalis than anywhere else,” said Aliweyd, a former math teacher who now runs a center providing classes for Somali youth and adults.

But he and other Somali leaders are pushing for more support from the city and school district, and for more affordable housing as the city plans for development along the future Southwest Corridor light-rail line. There, Aliweyd envisions a multicultural market like Minneapolis’ Midtown Global Market and more affordable apartments.

“In Eden Prairie, we are in an island,” he said of Somali resources. “If we weren’t here, no one would be doing this.”

City and school leaders say they are providing free resources to residents for everything from finding housing to filling out job applications, hosting a popular monthly program for Somali mothers and having Somali-speaking coordinators to help families.

“We’re trying to help them out the best we can with limited budgets,” City Council Member Brad Aho said.

Like other Twin Cities suburbs, Eden Prairie has grown increasingly diverse in recent years. Yet the affluent suburb may be known more for housing the Vikings practice facility and one of the few gated country-club communities in the metro than for its immigrant communities.

The city, on the edge of Hennepin County 15 miles southwest of downtown Minneapolis, had a 96 percent white population nearly 25 years ago, according to census data. Now, that’s dropped to about 80 percent. Among immigrant groups moving to the 62,000-resident suburb have been Russians, Indians and Somalis.

Wanted: Affordable housing

But it’s been challenging for immigrants seeking affordable housing in a city with only 10 percent affordable housing and a median household income of $93,000.

“There is really a housing equality problem in Eden Prairie,” said Mohamed Arab, who says he was the first Somali resident in Eden Prairie to buy a house years ago; he now owns a day care in Shakopee.

Since 2004, no affordable rental units have been built in Eden Prairie, according to the Met Council, which recommends that Eden Prairie add 1,844 new affordable units from 2010 to 2020. City leaders say they hope to repurpose existing buildings into affordable units through subsidies, since the city is mostly developed. The city also has an affordable homeownership program to help low-income residents.

“We’ve done the best we can with the existing housing stock,” Aho said. “I think we have a mix all the way from $3 million homes to $100,000 units.”

Other cities operate their own low-income apartments, but Eden Prairie hasn’t gotten into that business.

“They’d rather run liquor stores,” said Ahmed Jama, a longtime resident and business owner, adding that he wants the city and police to employ more Somali residents. “The question is what is the city doing for diversity? And that [answer] is zero.”

Growing community

From an office in the lower level of the Eden Prairie Center mall, Mohamed Duale sees a different picture. As the city’s immigrant liaison, he says he helps 20 to 30 people each day — mostly fellow Somalis — with everything from finding housing to connecting them with social services and jobs.

“When I moved here, there was nothing,” he said of the Somali community and resources in 2003. Now, he said, “compared to Minneapolis, we have nothing. But compared to other suburbs, we have a lot of resources.”

The school district, which also has a Somali communications coordinator, has free classes for Somali- and Spanish-speaking parents, teaching them everything from what a GPA is to how to help their children plan for college. School libraries have Somali storybooks. And the district’s website is translated into 11 languages — from Arabic to Portuguese — and recently added Somali.

“The city and school district have been doing things for the community for at least a decade,” said Nanette Missaghi, the district’s equity and integration coordinator. “We are trying to be culturally relevant not just for Somali students, but all of the students.”

And the need is growing.

According to 2013-14 data, 610 students identified Somali as their home language, far greater than Spanish or other foreign languages, and up from 489 students in 2010.

‘The need is huge’

To help Somali students, Aliweyd started the New American Academy in 2008 to provide after-school tutoring. In 2011, he opened an office in a business district on the border of Edina and Eden Prairie off Hwy. 169. It’s grown into a major community gathering spot and resource for Somali residents.

The academy just wrapped up a health care pilot program with Somali adults on chronic illnesses like obesity. After-school tutoring has shifted to youth leadership programs for Minneapolis, Bloomington and Eden Prairie students. And there’s a weekly evening entrepreneurship class for adults.

“I don’t know where I’d start,” Hodan Duale said as she pored over a binder in the class, hoping to start her own after-school activities for kids. “This is an opportunity to give us hope and dream.”

Aliweyd says city staff have been collaborating more with community leaders like him. He’s also gotten help from Allina Health, which provided the health care pilot program. The Corridors of Opportunity awarded him a grant to engage the Somali community in planning for businesses, jobs and housing along the light rail. And the Neighborhood Development Center in St. Paul provided the business curriculum.

“We want to be part of the community, but we have obstacles and issues,” he said. “The need is huge.

Source: Star Tribune

Minneapolis Bosaso 1

Minneapolis Bosaso 1
Minneapolis sister city vote is small gesture, big moment for Somali community

Minneapolis’ first Somali-American City Council member had said only a few words about the city becoming the first in the U.S. to add a sister city in Somalia before he began to choke up.

Abdi Warsame paused and looked out into the council chambers, packed Thursday afternoon with Somali supporters who stood shoulder to shoulder and spilled out into the hallway and nearby rooms. Some carried Somali flags and several had pulled on T-shirts reading “I (heart) Minneapolis” and “I (heart) Bosaso”. Photographers and video crews from Somali media outlets jostled for position in the crowd, trying to capture the moment.

All seemed to be waiting anxiously for the kind of vote that usually goes by without much fuss. If approved by this council committee, Bosaso, Somalia, would be No. 12 on Minneapolis’ already long list of sister cities. But Warsame, clearing his throat, said this vote was different.

“What it means to Somalis is emotional for me to think about,” he said. “Because for over 25 years, Somalis have suffered a great deal. They’ve been isolated and we grew up in a very tough time. So what this means to us is it means that isolation — we have hope that isolation is going to be over.”

Other council members agreed, unanimously approving the proposal to make the port city of Bosaso a sister to a city that’s become home to thousands of Somalis.

Organizers of the effort said they hope the partnership will provide opportunities for cultural and business exchanges, noting that Bosaso is a telecommunications hub and already home to manybusinesses with Minnesota ties. The city sits in a region that has several leaders who were born or spent time in Minnesota, and Warsame said a large number of Somalis in Minneapolis are from the area. Over the past two decades, Bosaso has become a home to many Somalis fleeing other war-torn cities — much like Minneapolis.

Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden recalled her work as an attorney in the 1990s, assisting Somali refugees trying to build new lives in Minnesota. She said many have stayed, put down roots and consider this city as their home.

“You have changed the city of Minneapolis,” Glidden told the crowd at Thursday’s meeting. “You have changed the state of Minnesota. It is a better city because of your contributions. It’s about time we have a sister city relationship.”

After the vote, supporters cheered and embraced. Some wiped away tears.

Khadija Ali, who runs an interpretive service company, said she was excited for her two young daughters, both born in the U.S. Ali said the sister city link will help show young people that Minneapolis is interested in Somalia — and all the people with ties to that country.

She said Somalis’ greater community involvement can provide important inspiration; her daughter, after learning Warsame had been elected to the City Council, ran for a council position at her school.

“It’s an exciting day in a way because it’s like the welcome we have felt has been extended beyond us, to the Somali people back home,” Ali said.

Degha Shabbeleh, a member of Minnesota Friends of Bosaso, the group that helped put together the sister city proposal, said the new relationship feels like a recognition of Somalis’ presence in the world.

“Today for me, it’s like I’m on the radar,” she said. “I’m here. You can see me now.”

Addressing concerns over terrorism, Warsame said he sees danger in avoiding new ties with Somalia. The way to build trust and support for the U.S., he said, is to make more Somalis feel welcomed, to build lives here and serve the community as members of the military or police and fire departments.

“I think this message is a positive message,” Warsame said of the sister city arrangement. “And it’s a message that I always kind of knew: The people in Minnesota are the best people in the world. And that’s why I was very emotional. I knew it couldn’t happen anywhere else. It could only happen in Minneapolis.”

Source: Star Tribune

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