A Minneapolis nonprofit on Wednesday will outline how it will select programs intended to prevent domestic radicalization.
Youthprise is administering about $400,000 grants designed to build resilience among Somali-American youth. It's part of a controversial program championed by U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Andy Luger aimed at preventing more young men from going overseas to fight for terrorist groups. The funding is coming from a mix of federal money through the United States Department of Justice and private dollars.
Youthprise president Wokie Weah said this approach is "the most promising prevention strategy for reducing isolation, increasing young people's positive identity, and providing opportunities for youth to thrive. As Minnesotans, our highest priority should be protecting our state's most precious assets, our youth, and working in partnership with them to find the solutions that will be most responsive to their needs."
This grant process is just one piece of a bigger effort. Big Brothers Big Sisters is planning to mentor youth, and the city of Minneapolis and the state are working on a jobs initiative. In September, Luger announced about $1 million in funding from state and federal grants, corporations and foundations.
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But there's been a backlash within the Somali community against the efforts, known locally as Building Community Resilience and nationally as Countering Violent Extremism. Some believe the approach stigmatizes Muslims. Others say social service programs connected to law enforcement can't be trusted.
Luger's office says it won't be involved with the funding decisions.
The national efforts are "woefully underfunded," said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University. Minneapolis, he added, is further along than Los Angeles and Boston, the two other cities invited to participate in a White House Summit last February on Countering Violent Extremism.
Ten young Minnesota men have been charged with conspiring to join the terrorist group ISIS in Syria.
Hughes said he understands the dilemma the program poses for some.
"You're trying to tell people, 'I don't need money for more agents to track down people who are concerning. I need money for mental health professionals and things like that.' It's different pitch," he said. "You're going to get hit, regardless what you do."