US: A welcome Somali voice at the Minnesota State Capitol

Ilhan Omar’s victory in the DFL primary is a great step forward.

While I supported and campaigned for Mohamud Noor in the recent DFL primary election in Minnesota House District 60B, I wholeheartedly welcome Ilhan Omar’s victory. It truly is a historic moment for the Somali diaspora and all Minnesotans.

For Minnesota’s Somali community to have the first Somali legislator in the country is amazing. And it is even better that that person is a woman.

Almost three years ago, my election to the Minneapolis City Council was heralded around our city, our country and even throughout the Somali world. At every moment since, I have felt a special responsibility to act as the voice of a people who have become refugees and severely dispossessed. I’m sure Omar is already receiving the same and perhaps even greater attention.

This is wonderful news for a community in great need. I soon will have a partner from the community in the Legislature and I look forward to the day when that voice will be heard in St. Paul.

As the Sixth Ward council member, my first obligation is to my ward. And the Sixth Ward is home to many people, most of whom are not East Africans. In my two and half years on the City Council, I have been able to see the streets in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood rebuilt and those same streets renamed to honor the East African community. For thousands, Cedar-Riverside is the East African equivalent of Ellis Island.

We also formed a sister-city relationship with Bosaso, Somalia. And although some would consider this a mere symbol, it is anything but. Just this week Mayor Betsy Hodges welcomed Bosaso’s mayor to Minneapolis, an event that promises friendship, hope and opportunity to a part of the world that desperately needs all three.

The job of a council member required that I work to improve our parks, adding a new pool at Phillips Community Center and helping to adopt the 20-year park plan that will bring dramatic improvements to Sixth Ward parks like Currie, Matthews, Phillips and Eliot — and do so through a requirement that racial equity be a central aspect of the plan.

There also have been issues of citywide importance: developing the sick-leave ordinance, banning plastic bags, establishing better affordable-housing programs and working on a new minimum-wage ordinance.

Most important, I have worked with Hennepin County and the state to begin construction this fall on the new job opportunity center in Cedar-Riverside. Getting the East African community connected to new jobs is the most critical effort we can make. The best thing that can happen to any American is to have a job that pays well and can support a family.

Many times I have been called to address state issues that affect East African day care providers or language interpreters, as well as special projects affecting the East African community. I was honored to try to help, and I found key supporters like Rep. Phyllis Kahn and Sen. Kari Dziedzic were very effective advocates who helped kill bills that would have crippled East African businesses.

Now, members of the East African community can communicate directly at the State Capitol through future state Rep. Ilhan Omar, and their voices will not need to be interpreted or translated. That is a true measure of inclusion.

In my term, I also have had to respond to the hate-filled, Trump-like rhetoric of former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, who claimed that Minnesota was the land of 10,000 terrorists (“ ‘Land of 10,000 Terrorists’ article was pure fearmongering,” April 28, 2015). Now, Omar will also have an ever-bigger platform to stand up to bullies like Donald Trump and Coleman when they attack our community. I welcome another Somali elected official’s voice who can articulate our community’s desire to fully share the American dream.

As a person who lived through the Somali civil war, was raised by a single mother in London and is the father of two daughters, I also appreciate the fact that a female Somali has made this great step forward. It is gratifying that Minnesotans are truly willing to give me and other Somalis the chance to succeed and serve in public office. It reaffirms what an amazing, truly welcoming state Minnesota is.