Somali-Americans at South High need a safe environment in which to learn

Ibrahim Hirsi
Ibrahim Hirsi: School officials, police, Somali community leaders and parents all have roles to play.
Photo courtesy Ibrahim Hirsi

Ibrahim Hirsi is a Somali-American journalist based in the Twin Cities.

Listening to the radio while driving to work Wednesday morning, I did something I haven't done in many years: I shed tears.

It was hard not to cry when I heard schoolgirls break down as they spoke of the fear and helplessness the outnumbered Somali students feel at South High School in Minneapolis.

During a press conference on Feb. 19, some Somali students described a culmination of increasing racial tensions at South that resulted in last week's melee involving hundreds of students.

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Somali students feel they're targeted by other groups because of their ethnicity.

"We feel like it's just us and only us together," sophomore Anisa Ahmed told the media during the conference. "That's the reason why I feel this happened, because we don't have a voice and we don't have anybody there to protect us or to even talk to us about this situation."

Some students told the Star Tribune last week that they've complained to the principal and school district school leaders, but in vain.

"Nobody listens to us, nobody understands what we're talking about," said a tearful Kowsar Mohamed, 16. "It's the fact that we go somewhere for education but we don't feel safe."

Somalis make up 8 percent of South's population of 1,700 students. They carry some of the major identifiers of what are known today as "disadvantaged" groups in the United States: Black. Immigrant. Muslim.

Because of this, it is unsurprising to some that Somalis would be bullied at school, neglected by authorities and reportedly called "animals" by police officers attempting to break up last week's brawl. No human being, however, should be humiliated and disrespected because of his or her ethnicity, religion and background — certainly not in this country.

School officials, police and parents must all tackle this issue and work immediately to resolve the tensions at South and other public schools throughout Minnesota.

Somali community leaders, activists and parents, in particular, should stand up to secure a safer place for their children. Parents and community leaders must not sit still and wait for others to create a safer environment for their sons and daughters. It is Somali parents' responsibility to speak out and pressure school officials and law enforcement to do something about the issue.

In recent years, numerous events in the Twin Cities have focused on the political situation unfolding in Somalia. It's important to understand and to try to help the fragile administration in Mogadishu. But Minnesota Somalis must not forget or ignore the problems facing their schoolchildren here at home. I hope that Somali parents and leaders will follow the example of Minneapolis school board member Hussein Samatar in supporting the students. I hope they will invite leaders of the Minneapolis schools to meet and discuss ways to create a comfortable environment where Somali-American students are respected and can pursue their education without fear.