Sunday, July 07, 2013
Life for the ethnic minority Bantu people from Somalia has meant a
steady stream of danger, whether from armed militiamen, wild animals or
disease-infested refugee camps.
Children were taught from an early age to survive. When in the path of a lion, stand tall. Don’t panic. Don’t run.
danger of Africa, we were prepared for it,” said Ahmed Omar, a Somali
Bantu who fled the war-torn country and moved to Fort Worth.
the State Department began resettling Bantu refugees in America in
1999, dozens of families ended up living at an apartment complex in
southeast Fort Worth.
But rather than finding peace, they encountered more heartbreak, this time from a predator for which they were unprepared.
month, Somali refugee Sida Osman — described by all as a charming and
happy 5-year-old boy — was beaten to death with a bowling ball.
A 13-year-old boy from the neighborhood was arrested on a capital murder warrant and remains in custody.
Sida had been playing outside on the evening of June 26 and was last seen riding his bike.
His lifeless body was found the next day in the back yard of a nearby vacant house.
suspect, who is not being identified because he is a juvenile, told
police that he and Sida went into the fenced back yard in the 4800 block
of Lois Street. The teen became irritated with Sida and hit him
multiple times in the head, police said.
“Right now, what we see
is a 5-year-old baby who is dead,” Mohamed Bulle, president of the
Tarrant County Somali Bantu Association of Texas, said through an
interpreter. “He didn’t do nothing wrong.”
Sida’s family and friends are left to wonder what lesson they missed, what they could have done to protect him.
of the local Bantus grew up in Kenyan refugee camps, one of many stops
in their search for a peaceful life. As they mourn Sida’s death, some
can only wonder whether they’ll ever find that place.
went out to the family,” said Myra Denton, a neighbor who offered
condolences to Sida’s mother. “They were trying to find a safe place
when they came to America.”
A home in Fort Worth
Sida’s family made it to Webber Garden, a complex near Pate Elementary School, thanks to relief agencies that aid refugees.
war and genocide have ravaged countries such as Sudan and Somalia,
local agencies — namely World Relief, Refugee Services of Texas and
Catholic Charities — have tried to find new homes for the displaced in
Fort Worth and Dallas.
Once in North Texas, many stayed because they found work, including at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, or formed strong communities.
2004 through 2008, about 13,000 Somali Bantus resettled in various
states, including Texas, Kansas, Maine and Missouri. Somali Bantu
communities emerged in Fort Worth, Arlington and Dallas; a group in
Amarillo has ties to the Fort Worth community.
said about 70 Somali Bantu families live in the Webber Garden complex or
nearby, a gathering that began in 2005.
The community includes
elders who were grew up in Somalia, others who grew up in refugee camps
and youngsters born in the United States.
Couples have many children, often five to 10. Sida had four brothers and a sister.
of the Bantus in Fort Worth were resettled by the local office of World
Relief, a Christian-based organization that helps with employment, case
management and immigration so refugees can get green cards or become
“Our goal is to connect them with community
members through churches,” said Jeff Demers, office director at World
Relief in Fort Worth.
Most Bantu men found work at DFW Airport,
driving buses, cleaning airplanes and working as custodians, said
Hussein Muday, who lives at Webber Garden.
Most of the women, who
still wear colorful African dresses and robes, stay home to care for
youngsters, many of whom attend Pate.
Charles Hamilton, an
apartment resident who has embraced the Bantus, said that when they
moved in, he was drawn to his kitchen window by a procession of people
dressed in brightly colored clothes.
“I saw all these people in all these colors,” Hamilton said. “I said, ‘Where did they come from?’”
A difficult journey
Becoming acclimated to American culture hasn’t been easy for the Bantus. Many spoke little English and brought few belongings.
Most had no money and had to find work, food and shelter. Children needed to be enrolled in school.
They knew little about life in the United States.
journey has been long and difficult,” said Mike Auman, director of
Refugee Services for Catholic Charities Fort Worth, which helped the
Bantus find their way.
Sharon Armstrong has helped the Bantus and
other African refugees for eight years through her work with SEARCH, or
Southeast Area Churches.
“A lot of people were not familiar with running water,” she said.
Armstrong said she worked to build ties with the low-income or working-class Americans who are the Bantus’ neighbors.
“The cultures sort of clashed a little bit,” she said. “Being from Africa is a lot different than being poor in America.”
years ago, Armstrong said, SEARCH organized a meet-and-greet at Pate
Park. The Bantus brought African dishes, and their Fort Worth neighbors
brought American food, she said.
Armstrong said the University of
North Texas helped put together a booklet that informed the neighborhood
about the cultural challenges the Bantus face.
The Bantus at Webber Garden are a tightknit group, with youngsters often moving back and forth among apartments.
Older relatives speak their native language, while the young ones converse in English.
Resident Mohamed Hamza, 33, said the children are lucky to be in the United States.
are not in a refugee camp,” said Hamza, whose family left Somalia when
he was a child. “Whoever is not a refugee, he can go wherever he wants.”
‘We are here legally’
Still, life in America has its challenges for the Bantus at Webber Garden.
girls are singled out by other young people because of their hijab, a
headscarf worn by Muslim women. Some recalled stones being thrown at
their apartments when they moved in.
After Sida’s death, frustrations boiled over.
members took to the streets, shouting “Peace and justice!” Others
carried signs saying, “We need peace” and “We are here legally.”
A suspect is in custody, but many Bantus remain terrified.
are wondering what we are going to do right now,” said Bulle, the
Somali Bantu Association president. “We understand that here is not
Hamilton, the neighbor, said the Bantus are hesitant to
call police because they learned to fear the authorities in Somalia. A
loud banging at the door can create a wave of fear in a Bantu home, he
But there have also been moments of kindness toward the refugees.
When Sida went missing, several women who are not part of the Bantu community helped search for him.
“They were really scared for him,” Hamilton said.
Church groups came in to pray and offer assistance.
Many Bantus praised Hamilton, who has always made them feel welcome.
they arrived in 2005, he organized a grassroots drive to collect beds,
pots, pans and other items for them. In the years since, Hamilton has
remained a friend.
When new refugees arrive at Webber Garden, they know to “ask Mr. Charles.”
Bantus survived a civil war.
“They were raping our families,” said Ayub Ibrahim, a Somali Bantu who lives in Dallas. “They were killing us.”
And they made it out of Kenyan refugee camps.
Now, after Sida’s death, they wonder whether they can find sanctuary anywhere.
“We don’t know where we are going to be,” Bulle said. “We are just scared a lot.”