As an educator, I often invite guests into my classroom in order to construct a safe space for Somali-American role models to be recognized for their excellence. My scholars’ response to the guests are profoundly powerful and this classroom activity is one of the many reasons why Urur Dhex-Dhexaad Ah: Community In-Between was developed. Visible role models, who are minorities, play an important part in their marginalized communities because they allow members to see what they can be; they ensure dreamers have access to success. By showcasing the community building and success of the 15 role models and the Somali community, Ruth and I help build a dialogue to better understand the New American community growing in central Ohio. The participants share their unique, yet interconnected narratives that emphasize the flexibility of Somalinimo (the Somali identity), as well as their meticulous rendering of Islamophobia, racism, forced migration, communal strife and poverty.
I didn’t realize the impact of media representation on Somali youth until I became an educator. It became clear to me that my scholars’ not only saw a lack of representation in media, but a lack of positive representation in general. Post 9/11, the war on terror and the current political climate in America hasn’t created an easy learning and growing environment for Somali youth. In Columbus, some of the youth are battling their demons with gun violence, gangs and drugs. These factors along with the lack of quality educational resources and tools in inner-city schools has led to a growing crisis in the Somali community. At a macro level, there is discrimination and marginalization within the broader Columbus community that fuels ignorance and misinformation about the Somali community.
My role in the community is to provide educational spaces that cater to my scholars’ unique experiences as Somali-Americans. My classroom creates a space of belonging for my students because their challenges and struggles often mirror my own. I am passionate about showcasing Somali role models in my classroom and now, I am able to feature them through this exciting project. My hope is that Urur Dhex-Dhexaad Ah: Community In-Between will be a tool to shift the representations of Somalis and Somalia in the media, create pathways to success for dreamers, reinforce the importance of community building and reshape the identities of young Somali-Americans.
To learn more about my experience as a Somali-American educator, please visit The Somali Literacy Project. It’s a wonderful site that has tools and resources for educators, parents, clinicians and community members: