The first year of my Bush Fellowship opportunity was really rich, allowing much learning and growth taking place along with the chance to plant long-term seeds. My quest started out with
the vision to work within the Somali community of Minnesota by providing one-on-one life coaching and group leadership workshops for Somali women and children. I went on a journey
to gather, simplify and translate Somali proverbs and stories of leadership and resilience into English for the purpose of using them to compliment existing leadership tools in a personal and
communal leadership development capacity. Like any refugee community in transition, its a given that intergenerational trauma is passed down but rarely is the wisdom necessary to survive and
succeed. I started out on this journey with the assumption that for the Somali community to thrive in Minnesota the women and children that are the future need to be equipped with with
tools that reflect their journeys and the wisdom from their elders and ancestors. My goal for the 24 month fellowship period has been the following:
- Create frameworks that give the community access to heroes & establish a leadership institute.
- Use art to create a more vibrant Somali community
- Help more Somalis share their first person narrative & publish their stories.
- Create a physical & virtual space where people convene and ideas are housed.
On the second month of my fellowship (October 2014), I traveled to Europe to shadow the work of a London based Somali arts and culture organization (Kayd). I assisted in organizing the 2014
Somali Week Festival, a ten day gathering where many assortments of intellectual, artistic, and activism exchanges take place. I got the opportunity to learn a great deal about Kayd by doing
grant writing for the festival as well as reports for funders at the end of the festival. In addition, I got the chance to sit down and interview many of the scholars, artists, and activists that were part
of the lineup. Other London based Somali arts, culture and language organizations also invited me for site visits.
My biggest takeaway from the trip is how diverse Somalis are, I was left with many questions about what Somali culture and identity is. Also, as a person that wants to create space for leadership development and art, I am now much more aware of the delicate balance between co-creating compared to offering a one size fits all solutions (complex challenge I will continue to reflect on).
Nations themselves are narratives, given that Somalis have been through many nations as immigrants and refugees we carry many narratives. Our collective narrative impacts and informs our individual actions and thinking. And innovative individuals are part of adding to culture and expanding how we collectively imagine ourselves. I learned about the nuances of organizing with and for Somalis and the patience it takes to lay a foundation for a space that is welcoming and innovating. I have learned the significance of history and context as a tool to examine and learn from and if necessary build upon. Somalis have experienced migration, and in one way or another were uprooted from a homeland to a host country where our imagination is used for survival, it is reactionary, and is also stuck on romanticizing about a far away place and a past when things were peaceful.
So for those of us that live in the present time and are forward thinking, we have the responsibility to push the imagination of our community GENTLY forward. And this requires a holistic approach that I will continue to reflect on. At the moment, I have a much better clarity as things are coming more into focus. I’ve grown more confident and comfortable with uncertainty and this is great because at the moment I have more questions than answers. My trip and learning would not have been possible if it was not for the connections I made in Europe. I would estimate the connections I made to be easily over one hundred unique individuals and organizations.
Upon my return to Minnesota, I put on my curating hat and one wonderful event that took place this year that is an example of the kind of experience and space I want to create is “Saved by Faith & Verse”, at the Loft Literary Center. I learned so much about Somali poetry and storytelling from putting this event together. It was a dream come true for me to gather people in the many communities I belong and share the power and beauty of Somali verse. Below is one response from one brilliant audience member. Her words capture the magical energy that was in the room on March 14, 2015. “The Loft's SAVED BY FAITH AND VERSE last night, curated by Nimo Hussein Farah, was a delightfully powerful gathering of Somali poets. Although I am Filipino and most of the poems were in Somali, I felt a connection to all of you - Nimo Farah, Ladan Osman, Abdillahi Ganey, Amjet Kemet, Caasho Baraanbur, Abdi Phenomenal, Ahmed Assad, Asma Farah, DJ Nak. Beyond words and language differences, it was so great to be in that collective energy and to feel the understanding through the language of laughter - giggling in agreement and empathy, shoulders shaking in joyful agreement, fingers snapping in solidarity. I became aware, beyond words, that you all were about to laugh even before you did. That experience was beyond words! Thank you, Nimo and all the poets, for last night! This event was SRO! Goes to show we have a deep cultural hunger to know and to traverse language, faith, cultural lines. That we have the ability to understand and connect on a profound level that goes beyond words.” -Marlina Gonzalez
Another highlight from this fiscal has been attending AWP conference that Minneapolis hosted. AWP stands for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. I attended the conference thanks to the generous donation of the Givens foundation. It was inspiring to be immersed in literature and poetry and connect with some incredible writers. I had the honor to co-organize an off-site reading featuring some amazing women of color poets from different parts of the country to explore narratives that are hard to come by. The off-site reading was made possible through a collaboration between SALLI Arts and Free Black Dirt. In addition, Augsburg college was generous in sponsoring us with their Common Table space on Riverside and Afro Deli with tea and Wiilo Restaurant food. It was a healing night with lots of delicious poetry, food, henna art and lounge music by DJ Sarah White. It was powerful to witness women from different backgrounds connect and find commonalities through art and culture. It’s taught me so much about the art of hosting & the different shapes healing can take. I am grateful for how much my network and heart expanded from the process of organizing and hosting this event.
I have a growing interest in space and how Somalis show up in the landscape of Minnesota. In many ways the Somali community has been very isolated with our local and international narrative often shaped by one dimensional soundbites and sensationalized news from mainstream media outlets. I was proud to curate part of the farmers market performances this summer where powerful first-person voices were shared in a public diverse space. I’m interested in more public exchanges and celebrations of East African and Somali culture. I’ve seen how much need there is for this narrative.
During the second year of my fellowship I look forward to producing more spaces and frameworks that continue to facilitate personal and communal growth. I hope to build the capacity of the Somali Arts Language & Leadership Institute (SALLI ARTS) to sustain the work that I have started.