When Khadija Charif performs a poem about a Syrian refugee woman, her mind races to the image that inspired it: a video of a panicked mother searching for her lost child and husband along the family's journey to safety.
Charif, the daughter of Somali immigrants, said her own mother was moved by the same image.
"My mom found it so, so, so touching, to see a mother and a wife going through that struggle — and here she was, blessed enough to have her family with her," Charif said.
Charif will perform the poem Thursday evening at a forum where young Minnesota artists will draw from their personal experiences in response to the Syrian refugee crisis. The state is home to a vast refugee community whose own stories of escape and rebuilding may ring familiar to the most recent exiles from Syria.
"It kind of hits home," said Charif's mentor, Somali-American photographer Mohamud Mumin, referring to the current crisis. "It's something that we empathize [with], and know firsthand."
Mumin also mentored another artist presenter, Muna Ahmed, 22, who is majoring in neuroscience and psychology at the University of Minnesota. For the past year, she has been photographing Twin Cities refugees from all over the world and listening to their stories.
Ahmed, a Somali-American born in Yemen, said she could relate to the act of leaving one's homeland and adapting to a new place and culture. She said that through her photography, she wants to help connect the broader public to the plight of the refugees.
"I think anyone, not necessarily even immigrants, can connect and understand having to be vulnerable, and needing help, and seeking it, regardless of things holding you back," Ahmed said.
Thursday's event will also feature speakers from Macalester College, the Minneapolis-based American Refugee Committee and the resettlement group International Institute of Minnesota. The forum is a collaboration among the college, Public Radio International and the group Gazillion Strong.
Charif, a student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, considers herself lucky; her family left Somalia before civil war erupted in the early 1990s. After that, mother and father were separated for several years while her dad lived in the United States, working to provide for his family in Belgium.
But Charif's family has seen its share of loss, too. Her younger brother, Abdullahi, drowned last year during a swimming class at St. Louis Park Middle School.
Charif's grief hasn't stopped her from advocating for others across the globe struggling to find safe refuge.
"We're hoping to bring awareness toward the crisis," she said, "and also to have a ripple effect."
The forum starts at 4:45 p.m. at John B. Davis Lecture Hall, Ruth Stricker Dayton Campus Center, Macalester College, 1600 Grand Ave., St. Paul. For more information, visit the event's Facebook page.