'Largest celebration of Somali culture outside Somalia' draws thousands to Minneapolis

Vendor at Somali Independence Day
Abubakar Ali leaves his shop at 24 Mall every year to sell everything with the Somali flag -- baatis, jerseys, hats and more.
Feven Gerezgiher | MPR News

A three-block stretch of West Lake Street in Minneapolis glittered with light blue on Saturday afternoon as crowds of people decked in the colors of the Somali flag gathered for the annual Somali Independence Day festival, part of a larger Somali Week.

Organizers estimate up to 40,000 people attend annually.

“This is, outside Somalia, the largest celebration of Somali culture,” said Ali Elmi, chair of the board of directors for nonprofits Ka Joog and Rising Impact.

Crowd at Somali Independence Day
People wait for vendors at the Somali Independence Day festival in Minneapolis on Saturday, July 1, 2023.
Feven Gerezgiher | MPR News

The Somali-led nonprofits organized the festivities with sponsorships from Amazon, the City of Minneapolis, Goodyear, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and many other organizations.

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Somali Week started with a town hall with political leaders and a soccer tournament bringing together teams from across the Somali diaspora.

“The focus really is promoting community, kind of shedding light on what the Somali community brings to Minnesota: the culture, the richness of heritage, and traditions,” said event coordinator Abdul Mohamed.

Family members wearing Somali flag outfits pose for photo
A group on Lake Street takes in the Somali Independence Day festival in Minneapolis on Saturday, July 1, 2023.
Feven Gerezgiher | MPR News

Mohamed said the week provides an important opportunity for younger generations to be connected with their roots.

Saturday’s festivities included music by Somali and non-Somali artists, as well free samples of camel milk and children books written in Somali and English.

It also included resources to uplift East African people, in the U.S. and abroad. Advocates like ARAHA fundraised for emergency assistance for families struggling with record droughts in the Horn of Africa region.

Somali Week ends on Friday with a documentary screening on Somali resilience through the opioid epidemic.