Report date
July 2021
Learning Log

Through the Bush Fellowship, I have learned what it means to be an authentic and servant leader, whose main responsibilities revolves around facilitating relationships and understanding. This Fellowship has given me numerous opportunities to get to know many diverse people, travel to new places, learn various things, and work with amazing leaders, legislators, community elders, and academicians. I have also built a network of successful and professional leaders and have mentored so many young girls. Of course, I don’t want to overlook the amazing coaching sessions I received from my coach during the Bush Fellowship experience. Some of those learning opportunities have shaped my whole life, improved my leadership approaches, and strengthened my commitment to working with unique individuals.

Since the day I became a Bush Fellow, I have had the opportunity to accomplish goals I thought were nearly unattainable. However, in the past year and a half, my skills and abilities were tested like never before. I think everyone wishes they had known what they would come up against with COVID pandemic, but what really impressed me was the resilience and perseverance of my team, my community, and myself. We were able to come together and pool our knowledge, skills, abilities, and connections to develop a plan that helped our community through some of its darkest moments to date.

As you may know, our city of Saint Cloud became a hotspot in Minnesota as hundreds of meat packing plant employees were infected with COVID-19. Most of those infected at Gold’n Plump, Jenni-O, and two local warehouses were immigrant and refugee employees who had no or limited, English language skills. Because of a lack of understanding the employment system and language barrier, they could not advocate for themselves to know their rights. For example, some of those employees I spoke with told me they were working while being sick. There were plenty of rumors moving throughout in the community. Some of those employees in the community said they felt they had to go to work or lose their jobs. Also, many individuals were living in multi-generational households, and most of the employees' families had contracted the virus. For them, self-isolation did not work for people living in a tiny apartment.

COVID disproportionately affected a number of communities of color. In my own community, (the Somali community of Central Minnesota) we had compounding issues, including (1) lack of access to information and resources, and (2) lack of Somali language resources that communicated anything beyond the basics of COVID. This created disparities that immediately came to my attention. My phone was ringing almost constantly in the early months of COVID. My aim for the community was to make sure members knew their rights, were aware of available resources, and they could ensure their safety and security overall. I started with a business taskforce to help minority companies connect with resources and information to help them stay afloat financially. Me and other active members of the community formed a coalition of community leaders, county leaders, and administrators. We took a lead role in interpretation and information dissemination, especially when it came to grants and to helping Somali business owners, and many others navigate application processes. I wrote a news article highlighting the impact the COVID lockdown had on minority-owned businesses and how owners could overcome the challenge.
COVID 19 is/was an issue greater than one person could handle, and the virus was an unprecedented test, and leading to the realization of how leadership abilities SHOULD function, as a part of whole and for the collective good. That’s why I formed a cross-sectoral collaboration aimed to resolve the existing challenges.

My COVID 19 task force team and I had been tirelessly working with the community, our elected officials, faith leaders, and various Bush alumni during those difficult times. We’ve continued to be actively engaged in a task force whose responsibilities include helping the community learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on minority-owned businesses, healthcare, and employment in greater Minnesota. I managed to include other minority communities in the ongoing discussion.

The COVID pandemic also revealed educational disparities, primarily for the Somali community of Central Minnesota. We reached out to the St. Cloud School District 742, aware that many Somali parents would have numerous challenges with online learning, due to their language differences.

Our projects with Saint Cloud School District 742 went beyond COVID related educational disparities. The school district presented us with the goal of helping them create strong, bi-lingual, and bi-cultural students through a Somali Language Literacy Program. In the first stages of this project, we have primarily focused on Somali students with limited formal education and language skills. We are strong proponents of the science that demonstrates high academic proficiency in one’s native language makes a student more successful in any subsequent languages they learn. We completed a process of student language assessment, coaching Somali language teachers in best language teaching practices, and undertook professional consultation with international university faculty (with strong academic Somali language skills) to produce the first Somali Language Literacy program in the nation. We hope not only to empower Somali children, but to offer the Somali language as a world language option in areas with significant Somali population to school children so that they are better able to create cross-cultural bridges with each other, communicate more effectively, and enhance learning capacities that come along with learning new languages. Throughout the Fellowship is over, we plan to use the momentum it has created to move forward with further language curriculum and literature development, especially through our new publishing company.

I am currently a second-year student at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, pursuing a higher education degree. St. Mary’s has helped me gain the knowledge, skills, and hone my abilities to become the leader I aspire to. The university has especially helped me fill in the gaps in my education and come to realizations about the direction of my future in the education field.

It has been an honor to be a Bush Fellow, and I am immensely grateful for the credibility, respect, competencies, and authority that have come with the designation.