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Somali group calling out Senator for comments

Wednesday April 19, 2017


Two recent health scares are causing some concern for a local organization that focuses on public health in the Somali community.

And so are the words of a state senator

Last week, a Michigan doctor was charged with performing genital female mutilation on two 7-year-old Minnesota girls. And this week, there is a  growing number of measles cases in Hennepin County, mostly among Somali Minnesotans.

But as local organization Isuroon worries about keeping its state funding, it is still taking issue with the words of one state senator.

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At a news conference Tuesday morning, Fartun Weli of Isuroon expressed frustration with comments made by Senator Jeff Hayden at a Senate committee hearing last month.

Lawmakers were discussing a bill that would reassign a state grant of $100,000 when Hayden raised questions about the organization.

"This hasn't been the first time this organization has had trouble trying to procure money from the state," Hayden said.

Isuroon is a woman-led organization helping Somali women and children with things like reproductive health.

The group says the grant money would help them study autism in Somali children.

"$100,000 to destroy an organization that is doing great work is really very disheartening," Weli said.

Hayden does not believe he owes Isuroon an apology.

"I don't know what I would apologize for," he said. "I have a fiduciary responsibility to you guys, the taxpayers, to make sure the money we spend goes in the right place."

Somali community members said it's frustrating to hear a lawmaker that represents their community criticize it.

"When these organizations day in and day out are empowering women, inspiring our community, showing amazing leadership, we do not break them down," Abdullah Kiatamba with African Immigrant Services said. "We do not beat them down, we do not discredit them, we do not stigmatize them, we encourage them, we support them."

But community members said it won't stop their efforts.   

"We are a part of this community, we will continue to show up at this house and fight for the dollars that our community deserves to address the issues that are important to all of us," said Jaylani Hussein with CAIR-MN.

Hayden said Isuroon has not reached out to him.

While he couldn't support the amendment, he said the money is still in the bill.

And Isuroon said even if they don't get the funding, they still have about a half-million dollars, so this won't shut them down.

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