Report date
January 2021
Learning Log

Since coming to Minnesota ten years ago, I have been dedicated to and focused on helping the women and children of the Somali and other African-immigrant communities thrive in a new country with a culture that differs markedly from that in which most were raised. The issues I have been addressing are complex with no easy solutions, things like domestic violence, housing insecurity, the physical and psychological sequelae of female genital mutilation, and mental health issues. I established a shelter, started an advocacy organization, assumed leadership positions in several community organizations, and became engaged in political activities all with the goal of helping African-immigrant women in Minnesota. However, it eventually became evident that all this activity was draining my energy and overwhelming all other aspects of my life. I realized that this level of activity was unsustainable and that I needed a better work-life balance. In addition, I recognized that I needed additional skills if I wanted to have a significant impact on the complex issues I was addressing.

At the moment I was feeling most overwhelmed, I became aware of the Bush Fellowship program and was urged by several of my colleagues and mentors to apply. Just that encouragement was helpful because it told me that there were people who believed in me and were willing to support me in becoming a more influential and balanced leader. My entire focus had been on helping others with little regard for my personal needs. Having my friends and colleagues encouraging me to focus some attention on my own needs helped expand my focus on what is most important. The Bush Fellowship application process prompted me to begin the process of evaluating where I was in my career path, the direction my personal/non-professional life course was heading, and how those two interrelated. I began to imagine how I could have a bigger impact on the issues that were important to me and still be a good mother and have a balanced personal and professional life.

As the application process proceeded and I advanced beyond the initial application phase, I began to realize that I could become a Bush Fellow and I began to look forward to the opportunities that the next year or two could offer. I looked forward to personally interacting with other Bush Fellows and program staff; attending educational sessions focused on leadership, community building, policy development and many other skills needed to be a leader in today’s world; working with a coach on leadership and work/life balance; enrolling in a degree program at the University of Minnesota; and traveling to conferences and meetings in New York and Washington where I could meet other women who are working nationally and internationally to advance the health and well-being of women. To make all that happen, I began the process of decreasing my time with my current activities to free up time for Fellowship activities.

Then COVID-19 happened. Then George Floyd was murdered. And the world changed. The demand for housing services increased as people were evicted from their homes and apartments because they had lost their income and were unable to pay rent. Domestic violence increased as individuals and families were stressed by the pandemic and its economic fallout. Funding for community services was stressed as the demands increased. Long-standing racial disparities and injustices were made visible to the entire community. Just when I was hoping to reduce my participation, the demand for my involvement in the issues of housing, domestic violence, and community leadership increased. This made moving forward on my Bush Fellowship objectives more difficult. At the same time, having Fellowship activities become totally virtual eliminated one of the things I was most looking forward to – personal interaction with other Fellows.

Despite all of that, I have made progress in meeting my Fellowship goals. I enrolled in classes at the University of Minnesota and, even though everything was virtual, I began to get a sense of what it is like to be a student and how important a good educational background (and a degree) is to personal and professional growth. Somehow, being a student has helped me recognize some of my strengths and given me some insight on what I need to learn. Because of time constraints, I could not take as many classes I had intended but I have learned that education is an on-going and life-long process and recognized that my coursework will continue even after I complete the Bush Fellowship.

Likewise, my coaching sessions have not progressed as far as I had hoped because of the demands on my time caused by COVID-19 and the protests of racial injustice. I have identified a fabulous coach and am now in the process of getting regular coaching sessions on-track. I have been able to get engaged in some national networking around women’s issues and look forward to the time when I meet some of the women’s issues leaders in-person.

Although 2020 has not played out as I had expected and has altered how I had planned on approaching the Bush Fellowship, I am realizing that the problems created by the pandemic and the racial injustices made more visible by the protests are providing me the opportunity to evaluate my leadership skills in a different light. It is teaching me the importance of flexibility and creativity in addressing the issues that come into one’s life. The Fellowship is giving me the opportunity to learn from all of what is going on around me and address all those issues in a way that maximizes my talents and skills, challenges me to learn more about what works and what doesn’t, clarifies with whom I need to develop relationships and partnerships, and underscores the need for self-care if I’m to be the most effective advocate for the health and well being of women.