As part of MPR News series “Civil War Kids: Young Somalis in Minnesota,” MPR’s Laura Yuen reports on how countless young Somalis in Minnesota are succeeding, despite grim statistics in their community.
Tens of thousands of Somalis escaped a brutal civil war, and now call Minnesota home. “Civil War Kids: Young Somalis in Minnesota” presents the stories of young Somalis confronting violence in their community, and struggling with the psychological scars that the bloodshed in their homeland left behind.
Report is third in a three-part series.
Click links below for other parts of series:
2010 NBNA Eric Sevareid Award, first place in Series - Large Market Radio category
2011 Society of Professional Journalists New American Award
(00:00:00) Behind, the gritty high-rises is the Brian Coyle Community Center. It's a squat brick building that has become the common space for the thousands of people who live in this development. They call the towers immigrant families speaking Spanish and Somali have come in from the cold to wait in the hallway of the Brian Coyle center tonight. There's a lottery of sorts, but the people in line aren't here to get rich. They're here to receive donated winter clothing and the children of the towers are running the show. The kids Manning a table are making their pitches like Hawkers at a Street Market about a headband. Oh, yeah, that's a good size. One boy shows an older Somali woman how to wrap a purple fleece headband around her forehead over her head job the kids raised money and organize the clothing drive themselves.
(00:00:49) We gave back to the community by new jacket has
(00:00:51) Globe. That's Muhammad Jama or is everyone here calls him MJ ask people at the coil Center to tell you a story of Hope from the Cedar River. Neighborhood and the often pointed the skinny kid with glasses who's growing up before their eyes at 16. MJ is the man of his house. He shares an apartment in the towers with his mom and two younger sisters just about every night of the week. You can find MJ at the coil Center doing homework playing basketball joking with the security guards. MJ says mentors at the center helped him come out of his shell and in a way that only kids can do he can speak of the Year 2007 as if it were ancient And
(00:01:30) history I used to be shy 2007 but I broke the glass I learned how to speak properly with others. Then just happen Allah.
(00:01:38) That's when he joined the neighborhood's youth Council and started to take on big responsibilities countless kids like MJ are succeeding despite Grim statistics in their Community more than 82 percent of Somali Americans in Minnesota live in or near poverty. And Somali adults are much less likely to have a high school education compared with other adults. MJ and his friends live in an area that is home to the largest concentration of somalis in the US and the towers which are six apartment buildings and faded colors have become the dubious Landmark for this largely low income neighborhood MJ's younger and much shorter pal Saleh Ali is just 13 but it seems as if Saleh has known his entire life what Outsiders think of Cedar Riverside people say all Cedars like a badly so malians and they start comparing us to other terrorists like The 9/11 they just look at us like why are those girls wearing a headscarf? Why are gangsters all over the place Silas says he wants people to think his neighborhood is a good place yet. It was here. Just outside the coil Center where a Somali American college student was shot to death in late 2008. The alleged gunman was a 16 year old boy who was upset because he wasn't allowed to play basketball to other young men were also killed that year and Cedar Riverside abdomen mukhtar runs the youth programs at the coil Center. Says young somalis like MJ and Sawa face many more dangers than when he was a teenager here in the 90s mukhtar points out that he had the benefit of Somali bilingual teachers in high school and the now-closed general College a Gateway program at the University of
(00:03:15) Minnesota. When I was in high school. We did not had any Gang Related issues or really know what the juvenile system was nowadays, you know, you have young people who are dropping out of high school you have young People who are doing
(00:03:30) drugs, but one of the most visible problems in this neighborhood is inertia young adults with nothing to do some of them hang out in front of the liquor store on Cedar Avenue all those come to the coil Center and the middle of the afternoon to play basketball. It's Abdul Rahman booked our job to open the gym for
(00:03:46) them. The only thing that I can do for them is keep them inside so I can keep them away from getting into trouble.
(00:03:55) So MJ idle young men are cautionary
(00:03:57) tales. I look at them and It helps me because I don't want to end up like them. I want to be a better person live in the society and succeed in
(00:04:07) life as president of the youth Council MJ leads meetings with a firm hand sit across from me. He says to make it in this world order is important mentors in the neighborhood. Look out for him and MJ looks out for younger kids like Salah who is the council's so-called spokesman today. MJ is talking about firing one of his friends from the position of vice
(00:04:28) presidents. Don't think this vice president wants to work hard for their position
(00:04:33) this because she missed one day like presidents to miss meeting. Sometimes I'm not trying to put her
(00:04:38) down because she missed today's meeting. Okay? No, I'm trying to send her a message. I understand that there is priority for her family. I understand that family comes first. So did the youth
(00:04:50) Council the adults in the room including a couple of security guards are trying to suppress their smiles, but MJ is right in a way discipline and Bility can help move people up and out of poverty and MJ's case. He credits his mom with keeping him on track. She turns off the TV and prods him to read. Another tenacious mom, Rocco were Sami is starting up the stove in our South Minneapolis townhouse or Sami is about to Ladle some batter onto a pan. She's making injera, which is like a Somali pancake. Her grown daughters are watching her from the kitchen table today. I'm the breakfast maker and I make my dough Because they added good at it when the bread is ready for Sami joins her daughter's at the table for the first meal of the new year. She's a single mom of four who was a nurse in Somalia before coming to Minnesota in the mid-90s. Her family's first home was in the towers they lived on the 32nd Floor where Warsaw me used to plan for emergencies with military Precision running up and down the stairs. I was trained myself saying okay if there is something Had been in the elevator and not working how you carry your children and save so that's what I was doing it. Yeah, one of those different that's for Sammy's 24 year old daughter for he'll Yusuf for he'll graduated from st. Catherine University her younger sister. Miriam is a freshman at the University of Minnesota. Miriam says a lot of her friends parents don't ask their kids about their daily lives. Her mom is not one of those parents. I just look back and I feel like she's right there. She's kind of like I don't know. She's like a lieutenant. So it's scary sometimes but Miriam says her mom's needling paid off or Sami was separated from her husband while fleeing Somalia Civil War. She says here in Minnesota. It wasn't easy raising their four kids on her own there were days when she was exasperated when you come from work. You don't want to talk. Even you done in your day is done your day, but you have a children and you don't have a way out you have to go to the school saying, you know. Was my child is doing and why I received this great and what they could do better or something went to English class and found a decent paying job at the post office. She set goals for herself and clawed her way to self-sufficiency today. She's a property manager with a nonprofit housing group. She says coming to Minnesota were good jobs were abundance was one of the best things she ever did for her family. Back at the coil center of the Roman mukhtar, the youth manager is rounding up a sea of kids including MJ and Saleh he zips up their winter coats and make sure they're properly bundled up there here holding signs to protest a recent suicide bombing in Somalia among the dozens killed in Mogadishu where students graduating from a medical school. They were young people to consider to be their country's best hopes mukhtar tears up when he thinks about the piers he left behind and Amalia he knows he's lucky but the trade-off he says is that there's a missing piece of him that will haunt him for as long as his homeland remains a war zone.
(00:08:04) We are the most fortunate and unfortunate generation. We are very fortunate because we are here in America getting education. We have food and shelter Brewery also unfortunate because if I want to go back to Kamali, I cannot do that because it doesn't
(00:08:22) exist doctor says for civil. Or kids like him the best I can do is help raise a young generation of Somali Americans the right way, he pushes them to do their homework and to stay away from drugs mukhtar says maybe one of these kids can help rebuild a distant Homeland, but first they have to beat the odds here Laura Yuan, Minnesota Public Radio News, Minneapolis.