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Minnesota is home to one of the world's largest Somali diaspora populations

By Jennifer Skuza

Minnesota has the nation's largest Somali American community, with census numbers placing the population at about 57,000, followed by Columbus (Ohio), San Diego, Seattle and Atlanta. Kenya hosts the largest number of Somali migrants (both refugees and nonrefugees) of any other country, according to UN estimates.

What is a refugee?

Nearly all Somalis living in United States are either refugees or children of refugees.  Refugees are people fleeing conflict or persecution. They are defined and protected by international law, and must not be expelled or returned to situations where their life and freedom are at risk.

Why have Somali people fled Somalia?

The Somali refugee story tracks to 1991, when civil war broke out in Somalia. Millions fled to refugee camps, many in Kenya.  The Somali conflict has been one of the longest  and bloodiest wars in recent history. To learn more about the history, BBC News offers a chronology of key events shaping a profile of Somalia in the form of a timeline.

What is unique about Minnesota?

Minnesota is a unique state in part because of its connection with refugee populations. Minnesota ranks 16th in the United States in terms of the total number of refugees who have settled, but it's the highest per capita. For instance, according to Lutheran Social Services, about 2,232 refugees settled in Minnesota in 2014, the majority from Somalia and Burma. It also ranks No. 1 in the nation for secondary migration, or refugees who have resettled in Minnesota from other U.S. states.

What is the role of youth-serving organizations?

Minnesota is home to one of the world's largest Somali diaspora populations and it is also  home to a unique opportunity for cultural learning. Youth work has long been a venue for culture learning and for creating positive social change. There are many resources that could strengthen your practice. Here are few ideas.

You could visit The Somali Museum of Minnesota or see examples of its artifacts and narratives online. This museum may be the only museum in the world dedicated to preserving Somali history. There once was a museum is Mogadishu, but its artifacts became scattered around the world during the war.

It is always good to learn from other youth-serving organizations. For instance, Ka Joog tailors its programming toward enriching the lives of Somali American youth by utilizing the positive elements of education, mentoring, employment, and the arts.

You could learn from The Somali American Parent Association in their quest to promote educational success among Somali and East African students.

You could incorporate WeConnect: A Global Youth Citizenship curriculum, which is designed to show youth that they are participants in a global society and prepare them to thrive in culturally diverse settings.

If you are not familiar, you could also explore the basic tenets of the Muslin faith through the Lutheran Social Service study group and youth curriculum resources.  The vast majority of the Somali American population in the U.S. is Muslim. Religious discrimination has no place youth programs.

-- Jennifer Skuza, assistant dean

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  1. Thank you for this post, Jennifer. At a time when Minnesota’s Somali community is particularly fearful, I hope youth programs like 4-H can be a venue for culture learning and for creating positive social change; a space where all young people and their families feel safe and supported, and where we can build empathy and understanding for those culturally different from ourselves. Thank you for your leadership in this area.

  2. Thank you Jennifer for your timely blog post. It comes at an especially uncertain time post-presidential election. Would you be willing to write a follow up blog post, perhaps in partnership with KaJoog or the Somali American Parent Association, on strategies around supporting/connecting with our immigrant youth and families during this uncertain time? I have had many immigrant youth in our 4-H programs express fear around what the future holds.

    1. Hi Amie - I am happy to develop another blog post in the future. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

  3. I am interested in learning more about where Somali and Burmese families are settling in a concerted and intentional effort to ensure that youth programming is accessible (and relevant). In one of the links that you provided, I was interested to learn from Jodi Harpstead, CEO of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, that "previous refugees have tended to flock to large cities, but the newer arrivals have settled in smaller towns." Do you know of a source that can help us learn where new families may be? Could it be a matter of reaching out to local school districts? Other ideas form other readers? Our small towns (I live in Brainerd) don't tend to have local Somali or Burmese Centers. *smile*

    1. Hi Heidi -

      Reaching out to schools to learn about new arrivals is always a good idea.

      Here are some other resources:

      Minnesota State Demographic Center

      Minnesota Compass

      Cultural Orientation Resource Center

      The UN Refugee Agency

  4. Jennifer, thank you so much for your blog. Indeed, our growing diversity in MN 4-H contributes to our increasing vibrancy as an organization. For educators and people who are interested in finding ways to create welcoming, diverse learning spaces as well as for guidance about how to talk with youth about the election's issues, Teaching Tolerance is a fantastic resource:

  5. Thanks for sharing the resource Kathryn.


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