Somali leaders, students call for change in Mpls. schools
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minneapolis School board member Hussein Samatar spoke out on behalf of the Somali community Tuesday in hopes of shining a light on what he calls a lack of leadership in Minneapolis Public Schools.
Samatar says tensions within the district are escalating between Somali and African American students. Students say they don't feel safe, respected or assimilated at South High, and no one is listening.
"Nobody understands what we are talking about," said Kosar Mohamed, a junior who fought tears as she spoke in front of the podium. "It's the fact we go somewhere for education, but we don't feel safe. The fact that we are supposed to go there to feel safe and a safe environment where everyone understands what we are doing or help us achieve a greater success. I'm a first generation child and my parents came here to give me a better life."
Her fellow Somali students say the lunchroom fight involving hundreds of students last week was years in the making. Moving forward, they are asking for Somali-speaking teachers, more security and advanced classes for more educational opportunities.
Samatar emphasized they are the new African American community, struggling to become recognized among peers and staff.
He says the number of Somali students in the school has increased to about 8 percent of the school population, but the staff does not reflect that, with not one Somali speaking teacher in the school.
"We have reached out to the traditional African American community for a long time. There is no way, no how we would be running the amount of businesses and opportunities without the African American community coming before us and giving their ultimate price of being in the United States. We get it, but they may not get it, so we have to find ways to do so," said Samatar. "We went through a civil war that has decimated our community and people are still going through it, so people need to have empathy and sympathy. "
Minneapolis School CEO Rick Mills came to listen to their concerns, and also offered a response to angry parents. Mills said while this fight is still under investigation, and specifics cannot be discussed, the district has launched a number of listening sessions with students in school and will also soon launch conversation with parents about these cultural issues, as well as explore more diversity training for staff.
Students in the group, S.T.A.R.T (Students Together as Allies for Racial Trust) says they will start their own dialogue about racial tensions within the school on Wednesday, when they will hold a private dinner for students in South High's media center.