A common theme emerged during my work and study in Somalia, India, Dubai and the United States.: You need to first empower yourself before you empower others. That has been my life’s experience. Growing up in Somalia during the most difficult times, I worked hard to invest in my education and family grocery store. Looking for opportunities to broaden my worldview, I was fortunate to go to India for higher education, I graduated from Osmania University in Hyderabad India with Bachelor of Commerce (Computers) and I was honored to receive scholarships from the government of India to complete an M.B.A. from Pune University, Pune, India. After I completed my education in India, I moved to United Arab Emirates and while working in Dubai, I received a diversity lottery visa to live and work in the United States of America permanently.
In the year 2000, I immigrated to the United States and like any other new immigrant; I started out from the bottom again. Though I had a graduate degree, I began work as an ordinary worker, and then looked for professional work. I got a job with the Minneapolis Public Schools as a bilingual educational assistant. After two academic years, I got a better job with the Owatonna Workforce Center as a career counselor, and started another Master’s degree in education at the University of Minnesota. In January 2008, I joined Senator Klobuchar’s team, and since then I have worked with the senator’s office. The young boy with a bleak outlook in war-torn Somalia is now works for United States Senator’s office and a leader in the Minneapolis School District where I oversee 36,000 students and 6,000 employees with over $700 million budget.
Since becoming an American citizen, working directly with a U.S. Senator, and being elected to the Minneapolis School Board in November 2014, I have worked passionately with others throughout Minnesota to help them build and sometimes rebuild their lives into healthy productive Minnesotans. I have been blessed with the chance to use considerable resources on behalf of others as an outreach director (primarily with immigrant and refugee communities). Through this work, I have helped forge policies and programs that benefit not only those in need, but also those already on successful paths. Those who know me are quite familiar with the strength of my passion and determination to ensure that all people have an equitable opportunity to connect with their passions and become more successful. I realized long time ago that the pen is more powerful than the sword, so I have sought out knowledge and wisdom. That journey has taken me through three continents and ultimately brought me to the Minneapolis School District where I've learned to meet people where they are.
From a leadership perspective in public education, it is clear that all too often we have expected that the system can manage a student population that lacks fundamental support. Students' lives should be absorbed in excited learning and healthy recreation, not dysfunction and drama. More than 60% of Minneapolis students of color are not proficient in math, reading, and science, with a current low graduation rate. This is painful and indicative of the long, hard work ahead. Minneapolis is hardly an exception, when comparing its struggles to other American cities.
I am looking at developing my doctorate in education around a more clearly defined wrap-around of community support and services that enable each student in a school to succeed and thrive. This is necessary -- regardless of status or circumstance. Students cannot succeed if they are constantly distracted by outside forces that impact them. By building a partnership of school, neighborhood, business and service organizations, I want to create a richer, more vibrant culture that truly focuses on success and achievement. I want to develop strategies to strengthen communities by studying those successful at bringing all supportive energies to bear on core community functions.
Fellowship resources are helping me visit those communities and learn from the practitioners who have found ways to achieve these goals. I wish to be learning from some of the best public school programs that consistently deliver enthusiastic, well-prepared youth back into our communities – even looking beyond American borders for inspiration and examples of success.
With help of my Bush Fellowship, I hope to achieve the following goals in personal leadership development:
• Earn an Ed.D in Educational Leadership – the highest academic credential in my field.
• Develop relationships in the field of educational policy to help ensure personal success in the future.
• Integrate leadership experiences with educational policy into an effective learning strategy for students’ academic achievement.
It is my expectation that I will develop the skills to lead appropriate organizational change while continuing to work with an extremely diverse population. I believe that I will be positioned to help even more students achieve at a high level and compete in the global economy. I want to create a richer, more vibrant culture that truly focuses on success and achievement.
I tried several times before I was finally granted Bush Fellowship in March 2019, so please keep trying and do not give up. The challenge to new fellows is to stay positive and use this opportunity to develop your leadership. The fellowship enables you to both learn from your cohort and from some of the best minds in your field. It is a time to spread your wings, to think broadly about possibilities that you might not have otherwise considered, and to imagine opportunities beyond the usual constraints of budget and time. Some of the best experiences are unforeseen.
Monthly reports keep you on track and force you to pull the often-disparate parts of your life together. My fellowship program officially started on June 2019 and even these initial six months of study and inquiry have caused me to grow in ways I had not entirely been able to predict. It is a rare opportunity to be able to focus on personal growth amidst the busyness of a working life. And, because the scope of the support for two years, some alteration of plans is inevitable and supported.
The Bush Fellowship is an invaluable opportunity for growth mid-career, one that all community-minded Minnesotans should consider.