Minneapolis: proud home to a successful, complex Somali community

U.S. Representative Peter King is holding another hearing in Washington today on “radicalization” in Muslim communities in America, with a focus on the Somali-Community. Now when Al-Shabaab tries to recruit our youth here to fight their battles there — and sadly, sometimes succeeds in doing so — we take it very seriously: indeed, Minneapolis’ large and vibrant Somali community has been bravely dealing with this problem head-on for years, and I fully support their efforts to do so. But Minneapolis is proud to be home to a complex, many-sided Somali community that has many American success stories to tell, stories of which everyone can be proud.

Minneapolis is home to Mohamed Jama, Said Barre and Kafiya Ahmed, all young people who have interned in my office through Minneapolis’ STEP-UP jobs program. They are just a few of the scores of Somali youth who have gained meaningful employment through STEP-UP and are mapping out their own paths to success. Mohamed tells me he’s going to move into my office when he becomes mayor someday, and I don’t doubt it for a second.

Minneapolis is home to Sadia Abdi, an entrepreneur whose fantastic hot sauces are now available at farmers’ markets and groceries across Minneapolis — and whose business is growing fast. Sadia grew up in Somalia and came to Minneapolis via a refugee camp, where she gave birth to her children. She has never stopped turning her American Dream into reality. I’m proud that the City of Minneapolis has supported her business through low-interest loans, including the Alternative Financing Program that is specially designed to help Muslim entrepreneurs, a majority of them women, and has helped leverage private investment that has created or retained over 120 jobs.

Minneapolis is home to Hussein Samatar, the director of the African Development Center, which helps immigrant entrepreneurs and teaches financial literacy. Since January of this year, Hussein has also been the first Somali-American elected official anywhere in America, serving our community on the Minneapolis School Board. Hussein came to America as a trained economist speaking four languages, taught himself English, got an M.B.A. and has become a strong leader not just in the Somali community, but for all of Minneapolis.

And Minneapolis is home to the exciting new initiative Neighbors for Nations, a partnership between the Somali community and the internationally-respected American Refugee Committee, for whom Minneapolis is also home. Neighbors for Nations harnesses the community’s desire not only to alleviate suffering in Somalia, but to contribute to building a sustainable future for that country.

Youth striving for education and good careers, entrepreneurs striving for success, community members striving to give back: these deeply American stories unfold every day in Minneapolis’ Somali community.

Yes, the community faces tough challenges, including the recruitment of young men for violence and the famine in Somalia right now: it is working hard to address them, and all Minnesotans and all Americans should support them as they do so. But we cannot allow even the most serious challenges to obscure the community’s many contributions and successes. As mayor, I’m proud that Somalis call Minneapolis home.

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