First and foremost, thank you to all the Bush staff who made it possible for me to be a part of this remarkable program. Despite the challenges of the past year, I have deepened and expanded my capacity for leadership -- in some unexpected ways. I have learned from my cohort and the Bush staff and thank the Foundation for all the opportunities for growth in the midst of both local and global tragedies. Now, as our metro area faces yet another historic challenge, I reflect on the milestones of these two years and how they have affected my path.
The Klobuchar Campaign
When I think about my role in national politics, these two years bridge two administrations and the presidential run of my employer, Sen. Amy Klobuchar. The opportunity to work on her campaign was somewhat unexpected and brought me into direct contact with more constituents in Minnesota -- and those in other states as well. It expanded my understanding of community needs, state to state, and helped me move from a state-level to more national understanding of what is possible politically.
In particular, I feel fortunate to experience the leadership of Vice President Kamala Harris, a first on so many fronts. I especially celebrate her election for what it represents to other countries. This is truly something to be proud of in this tough time as it will enhance the self-esteem of many young adult females across the globe -- as do American firsts in sport, film, technology, and education.
Vice President Harris also affects my leadership thinking in that it is a kind of “case study” in leadership happening within my lifetime. I have every hope that this term will open new doors for her and for all of us, as we come to see ourselves in her.
Despite the interruption of the pandemic, taking the Doctor of Education classes as well as a series of seminars on Human and Child Rights Education through the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Global Studies helped me focus my interests and aspirations of a future in higher education. My thinking about Minnesota’s curricular requirements have become more global thanks to the “Taking Action” series of webinars on helping students take informed action on human and child rights issues. I plan to continue my doctoral education, post-pandemic.
Similarly, my involvement in Minneapolis’ “Child Friendly Cities Initiative” -- a program of the United Nations to ensure child rights at the city level -- continues to inform my work. I am hopeful that Minneapolis will achieve this status in the next year and that our city’s involvement as one of the first three nationally will help us achieve a stronger focus on young people’s needs through their direct involvement.
MPS School Board
As I’ve mentioned in previous reports, I’ve been “thinking globally while acting locally” serving as a member of the Minneapolis Public Schools school board. In this past year, the passage of the Comprehensive District Design -- despite the obvious challenges brought on by the pandemic -- means that the district is taking significant steps toward equity for all students. For me, this decision was informed by my national role on the Executive Committee of the Council of Great City Schools, where I have had the opportunity to develop relationships with chancellors of some of the largest districts in the country whose struggles are not unlike Minneapolis’.
Another MPS success of this past year (Nov., 2020) is the passage of ethnic studies as a requirement. I have been involved in developing a Somali Studies course and am excited that the students of 2025 will have this as a requirement for their graduation. This ability for students to explore their own roots should have profound and lasting effects on students of all races and ethnicities. And it will help them all become more informed global citizens, as well.
This year has been particularly challenging for the Somali-American community as the rate of alcohol and drug use has increased, and with that the high rate of overdose deaths, while the stigma of addiction remains. These challenges are perhaps uniquely challenging for our community because of the Muslim faith, which forbids such use. I was recently instrumental in getting Superintendent Ed Graff to support a proposal which could bring state public health funding to this topic and to a series of MPS schools and students. This kind of support is overdue and urgent.
More immediately, the district is considering how to best prepare for the Derek Chauvin decision. While considering reopening schools, we suddenly have to ask ourselves if this is the best time -- given the uncertainty of the aftermath of the jury’s decision.
These are the moments when I am especially aware of the responsibility of this role -- and the consequences of our decisions. It is a time of understandably low morale in the city and -- to some extent -- in the district, as we await this decision. Whatever the next steps, the responsibility for ensuring student safety is wholly our own.
Another consequence of the pandemic was the cancellation of my planned trip to Finland to explore their education system. Because the Finns have been pace-setters internationally for more than a decade, I was excited to see what I could learn from this University of Minnesota-sponsored trip.
In lieu of that experience, I added on some educational aspects to my travels to family in Kenya. These experiences have also been galvanizing as I’ve come to understand more about how countries have opportunities to recreate educational systems when they are coming out of trying times -- as is the case in Rwanda. I visited there this past fall, and have built relationships with a number of people involved in addressing the housing crisis through a high school completion program that enables students to graduate with certifications as builders. It was both eye-opening and inspiring to see what they have achieved so far.
The program is run by an outstanding female leader, who has borrowed some of the best ideas out of neighboring countries like Gabon to prepare young people to lead the effort to rebuild Rwanda, building 40,000 homes in the next few years with a plan that is both efficient and green.
I am helping connect the Rwandan faculty with Americans who have similar interests and expertise in both STEM programs and construction. We have had one international call so far, and I am excited about the possibilities for both countries to learn from each other.
Yet another consequence of the pandemic was the cancellation of the Shannon Leadership Institute, a program I had been selected for about a year ago. In place of attending that program, I have worked with a friend who is a graduate and who has shared with me the basic tenets of their approach.
She has helped me learn about “servant leadership” -- a term I didn’t know before, but a concept I have long practiced. I have come to see its relevance also for young people, and hope that this is an approach I can also help foster in the Minneapolis Public Schools.
In short, I feel very grateful for all the ways that the Bush Fellowship has introduced me to new colleagues and concepts while fostering my growth across so many leadership domains. I emerge out of this two-year experience a more effective communicator, committed to helping bridge many gaps both for Somali-American community and for all young people in MPS and across the state. I hope that my future will enable me to work more extensively with young people overseas, as the global citizen paths I’ve walked are becoming both more common and more important to this next generation.
With gratitude, I submit this report.