Browsing Month August, 2010

Somali community celebrates education excellence

By , August 27, 2010 | 12:50 am | 0 Comment

Somali community celebrates education excellence – When Fartun Farah, Huda Hashi and Mohammed Mahmud graduated from school recently, it was an exciting moment that each one of them celebrated with their respective families and close friends.

But little did the trio know that they would also be celebrating their achievements with the rest of the Columbus Somali community and that Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and a bevy of other elected officials would be there to celebrate with them.  And that President Barack Obama would send a shout-out all the way from the White House in recognition of their accomplishments.

Thanks to Jibril Hirsi, President of SomaliCAN, who in collaboration with the Somali Education Association, made it all happen after he decided to organize the event to celebrate educational excellence in the entire Somali community.

The event, titled the First Annual Ohio Somali Graduation ceremony involving high School, college, and university graduates, took place at the Hilton Easton.  It was themed, ‘celebrating academic excellence.’  The keynote speaker was Professor Steve Howard of the Center for African Studies at Ohio University.

Evidently, this kind of community clambake is an obvious departure from the norm.  Typically, each family would hold separate events to celebrate the graduation of a family member.  But Hirsi decided to change that.  He told the Call & Post that holding an amalgamated event is much more productive, not only because it celebrates collective community accomplishments, but also it brings the community together, even as it helps debunk the constant association of Somali youth to “terrorism” and “pirates.”

Besides, that’s how it’s done back in Somalia, recalled Hirsi.

“People who do well in school are recognized by the community, not individually, said Hirsi.


“So that others are motivated to do well also, because they would see the community recognizing and celebrating the achievement of those that are doing well,” said Hirsi.

Ohio State Professor of African Studies Kelechi Kalu agreed.

Kalu, who was recognized for his contributions to academic excellence in the Somali community at the gathering, applauded the accomplishments of Somalis in Columbus, saying, “even those displaced can decide to regroup as a nation.”

Asked if this should be an emulous model for other African communities, such as the Nigerian community, his homeland?

It should, replied Kalu, who is also the Director of the Center for African Studies at Ohio State.

“Even we can build on a collective foundation to begin to re-envision our homeland,” he said.  He expressed the view that part of what needs to happen is to “make sure everybody is on the same page and on the same platform.”

Coleman applauded SomaliCAN for its dedication to service to the Somali community in Columbus with certificate of recognition.  He praised the young graduates for their achievements.

“Jibril, we all know that education is the key to success, to our advancement.  It’s important that we focus on education,” said Coleman.

Coleman urged the young graduates to “respect your elders, respect your families because they brought you to Columbus and gave you the education you have.”

The President of Franklin County Board of Commissioners John O’Grady congratulated the students, telling a story of his grandparent’s journey to the United States from Ireland and reminding them that “this is a nation of immigrants.”

It’s less about who you are today, and more about what these students will become tomorrow, O’Grady told the graduates.

O’Grady also praised the organizers of the event.

“Sometimes you have to stop and celebrate your success and recognize the hard work that people are putting in,” said O’Grady, about the event.  He described it as “a wonderful event for the community.”

Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy spoke.

“This is a very happy occasion for all of us tonight,” she said.  She praised the community unity that the event inspired.

“I have attended a lot of graduation ceremonies, but this one is very special, because we have the whole community coming together to celebrate educational accomplishments.”

In that spirit, Kilroy presented SomaliCAN with a certificate of special congressional recognition for outstanding and invaluable services to the Somali community.

President Obama gave 5 presidential service awards to Somali activists to recognize their “outstanding service” to the community, including Khadra Mohamed, a social worker, and Adan O’hirsi, Director of Programs for SomaliCAN.

Keynote speaker Howard hopes “that the event continues in the future.”

It will, assured Hirsi.

“It’s an annual event.  We will be holding it next year again,” said Hirsi.

And hopefully by that time, Farah and Hashi would be in graduate school and Mahmud in college pursuing their academic dreams.

Farah, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from The Ohio State University, said she plans to go to grad school to become a physician assistant.  She would like to attend the University of Toledo.

Hashi, bagged a bachelor’s degree in political science from Marietta College.  She plans to study international law and international relations in grad school.

Mahmud, who graduated from Beechcroft High School is planning to attend law school and wants to work in the field of intelligence, possibly with the FBI.  But above all, he is passionate about school because “I want my country to be a better country.”

Ike Mgbatogu can be reached by email at:

Immigrant Community , News

Coleman frustrated by wave of deadly violence

By , August 25, 2010 | 3:26 am | 0 Comment

City is fighting back after it recorded 11 shootings, and 9 homicides in 72 hours, and counting – It has been dubbed the “summer of violence.”

And for sure, it is not the kind of summer Mayor Michael Coleman, Director of Public Safety Mitchell Brown, and Columbus Division of Police Chief Walter Distelzweig had in mind when they kicked off an initiative last April to have folks turn in their guns to the police.

Even though a pile of guns were retrieved in that effort, city leaders are not satisfied and are continuing to fight to keep guns off the street, keep young folks from gaining access to them in order to keep the rate of youth violence down.

But for some reason, like the proverbial bad pennies, these guns keep flowing back into the community, and ending up in the hands of a trigger-thrilled generation too chicken to fight and settle their scores with fists.

The recent spike in gun violence in Columbus is pretty disturbing for city officials, to say the very least.  Coleman, for one, has always complained that there are “too many guns in the street.”  He decried the spate of violence and the frustration he feels for young folks dangling on the street and killing each other.

“There have been nine homicides in the past two weeks; all between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 p.m. Four of the victims were under the age of 26. Two of the victims were 15 and 16 years old — respectively,” Coleman said.

And Young Black folks are often caught up in the deadly maelstrom.

“Seven of the nine are African-American males. Seven of the nine died as a result of gun violence. As we look at these nine, that don’t seem to be connected with each other, they clearly are acts of random violence in our city.”

In one of the killings, 16-year-old Darrick Dawson and 17-year old Jayme Eugene-Jamar Prince shot 16-year old Katrel Parker to death, and then took refuge in a nearby church by blending in with the congregation worshipping there at the time.

What’s more, since this story went to the press, there have been more homicides.

What’s stoking this rash of violence, though?

Because “far too many guns are being made available.  We’re a gun state.  We allow concealed weapons by law.  We allow the proliferation of guns in all of our communities,” said Coleman.

“I’m frustrated by this, the proliferation of guns in all of our urban communities.  There are more guns than ever in the street of Columbus,” said Coleman.  “You don’t need an AK 47 to shoot deer at the corner of Broad and High in Columbus.”

You certainly don’t.  Yet, more young folks probably died from gun violence this past couple of weeks in Columbus than deers.

The city is fighting back.

Coleman, last week, called an emergency powwow of his security staff, with Columbus Police Chief Walter L. Distelzweig, Director of Public Safety Mitchell Brown and other city security officials in attendance.

The reason for the strategy session was to come up with a plan to push back this wave of violence.  It ended with a plan to unleash the Division’s community response team, to include a beefed up police patrol and increased community engagement.

Coleman said that the members of the response team will come from the Division’s Gang Unit and the Gun Reduction Project to patrol selected neighborhoods around the city.

Coleman said that community crime prevention is everyone’s responsibility.

“This is an issue that must engage everyone in our community. This is a problem that is everybody’s responsibility,” Mayor Coleman said.

He called on parents to ensure their children are home by midnight and urged residents to help fight crime by reporting incidents of criminal activities to the Police.

Ike Mgbatogu can be reached by email at:


Group, students promote clean energy economy

By , August 25, 2010 | 2:34 am | 0 Comment

Group, students promote clean energy economy — U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown from Ohio is probably used to his constituents reaching him through a panoply of methods – letters, emails, and phone calls.

But last week, a bevy of Ohio students thought of a better way…submitting 500 resumes and cover letters to his office.

The students, largely from Ohio State University and Kent State University, came to submit resumes collected from students in universities across the state, said Tina Hrabak, one of the activists who spoke to the Call & Post.

Those who besieged Brown’s Columbus North High street office last week were not actually job seekers.  Rather, submitting the resumes was their way of expressing support for clean energy economy they argue “would create as many as 61,000 jobs” while saving Ohio “households up to $992 per year.”

It was also to put pressure on Brown to honor his commitment to support comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation, said Hrabak, who also noted “we appreciate Sen. Brown’s support.”

“He has our back,” said Hrabak, of Sen. Brown.  But it appears they want him to do more to press the issue.

Bryan McGannon, Ohio State Director for Repower America spoke to the Call & Post.

“Repower America is calling on Senator Brown to continue to make progress on this issue because it creates good jobs and breaks our dependence on foreign oil, and avoid the kind of catastrophe like we have now in the gulf,” said McGannon.

State Senator Ray Miller, a ferocious supporter of clean energy legislation, agreed.

“With the disaster in the Gulf, we’re seeing in graphic detail why we should be doing everything possible to end our dangerous dependence on oil,” said Miller, calling it “the most important issue facing the Ohio economy and our national security.”

“Now is the time for action, and now is the time for Senator Brown to honor his promise to support strong clean energy solutions,” said Miller.

The student’s visit to Brown’s office was part of a rally organized by Repower America at Goodale Park near Downtown Columbus to trumpet the importance of passing clean energy legislation by the Congress.

According to its website, Repower America, which was established in 2008, promotes “the importance investing in energy efficiency, clean reviewable diversified energy sources; a unified national smart energy that connects these renewable energy sources to every part of the country; and clean car technology.”

President Barack Obama, in a recent speech, set the right tone on this.

“We have the opportunity now to create jobs all across this country in all 50 states to repower America, to redesign how we use energy and think about how we are increasing efficiency to make our economy grow stronger, make us more safe, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and make us competitive for decades to come – even as we save the planet,” he said.

In its website, Repower America said that its task is “to insure that our elected leaders in Washington DC hear the powerful combined voices of millions of Americans who stand behind our call for action to protect our climate and create a clean energy future.”

The small rally in Columbus was part of that task, to ensure that Sen. Brown, who has expressed support for comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation, will keep his promise.

The Obama administration has invested billions of dollars for this, which in part is why Repower America declared on its website, “We have witnessed real progress on clean energy at the federal level.”

But recent events struck a major setback to that progress after Senate failed to pass clean energy and climate legislation.  Repower America had described the legislation as “the building blocks for a comprehensive clean energy and climate package that will help put America on a path to a clean energy future and help address the climate crisis.”

McGannon weighed in on the setback.

“We are disappointed that Senate failed to take action on Comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation last week,” said McGannon.

He is not alone.

About 360 organizations from across the country signed a joint statement expressing disappointment about the “senate’s failure to address a clean energy and climate policy.”

“As we move forward, the Senate’s job is not done,” the joint statement said.

Ike Mgbatogu can be reached by email at:


Quit complaining about the Somalis, get involved

By , August 25, 2010 | 1:53 am | 2 Comments

Quit complaining about the Somalis, get involved — Pouting, whining, caterwauling, kvetching and scowling all over the place with long faces isn’t the solution.  It won’t help non-Somali African immigrants in Columbus get through the doors of government opportunities.

Understand one thing, please:  ‘squeaky wheel gets the grease.’   And that’s pretty much what’s playing out here.

Of course, it is abundantly clear, unless one has been camping out in a cave, that the Somalis, for what it is worth, are soaking up all the oxygen of attention from governments and community groups compared to other African immigrant communities?

But why?

For one thing, a stampede of them arrived here as hapless refugees needing a smorgasbord of government assistance to settle in a strange land.

But let’s be clear, that’s hardly the only reason.  Part of it, I think, is also that Somali groups have for years labored in the trenches of social activism capitalizing on a plethora of issues in their community as a springboard to engage the political process and chummy up with local politicians.  Many of them have been able to articulate their once scattered orb into viable, focused and visible pockets of communal advocacy now being championed by a rash of pushy cabals constantly dangling their pain before swooning government officials.

But in contrast, other African communities, especially West African communities, have not been able to match the Somalis in this fundamental regard.  Yet, many refugees also arrived from Sierra Leone, Liberia and other places, and very much like the Somalis are also facing a catalogue of difficult challenges.

To be fair though, it is not as though West Africans are a bevy of clueless naifs wallowing in their lack of desire to form groups.  No – they form groups, too.

But the question is, to what ends?

Seemingly, the kind of associations emerging out of West African immigrant communities often take the form of esoteric social clubs, the kind we have back home, that cater only to the interests of their uppity members.  Far too often, the leaders of these groups are quite boffo at promoting dancehall shindigs than the interest of their community before government officials, which in a way, easily explains why they are blasé about the communal ululations tormenting the poor in their communities.

True, not all West African organizations are woeful culprits, but far too many of them suffer from this contagious prodrome.  Much of it, I think, is because some of these groups sprouted out of a restless and cavorting phalanx of elitist leaning folks united in their phalangeal seclusion from the concerns of the puisnes among them.

That’s why, these inchoate camarillas are inherently not agents of community mitzvah.

How often do you see a West African organization representative before a committee of the city council or the Franklin County Board of Commissioners trumpeting community issues?

The fact is, West African groups have a woeful track record regarding this.   But in contrast, Somalis do it all the time.

To be clear though, I’m not knocking non-activist groups.  It’s OK to form groups allowing restricted membership, by a swashing bunch craving uppity hobnobbing with no interest in social activism.  It is entirely OK.  But if that’s how you want it, then for heaven’s sake, get off the back of the Somalis if you are unwilling to get involved in community work. You just can’t have it both ways.

West African hoipolloi, many of them toiling in dual jobs as nursing aides, babysitters, store cashiers, factory workers, and restaurant factotums, constantly grumble about their plight being ignored by government leaders they say often cater to Somalis’ every tantrum.

Some have questioned the veracity of this claim.  But those making it uncompromisingly believe that the Somalis are lopsidedly being coshered with love while  they receive shabby treatment.

To resolve this indaba here would amount to a lofty orb, and I won’t even try.  Yet if there’s any dram of truth to this raging claim, then a hefty dose of the blame should be dumped right at the doorstep of those tone-deaf government officials who for some nutty reason just would not quit treating the Somalis as though they are non-Africans.  It only deepens the rift.

But having said all of that, constantly being on a rampage caviling, brickbating and begrudging the Somalis won’t help.  It is a copout.

What to do?

Quickly get off the dead horse and mount the farm cart of social advocacy, instead.  While on the wagon, swiftly purge the old, stale, lethargic order by organizing and pushing to reform and refocus these hedonistic and feckless West African cabals littered all over the city for a noble role in social activism.  That is essentially how the Somalis have been able to establish a noteworthy presence deep in central Ohio’s political scene.

One gallant effort to form an activist West African organization took place a couple of years ago, but the group, which was called African Women Empowerment Network (AWEN), despite the initial euphoria touting all the great things it wanted to do for the community, limped through a tide of debilitating hurdles before it ultimately died on the vine for lack of support from both the government and the community it was swooning to help.

But truth be told, that wasn’t really the only reason it collapsed.  It was also because its founders failed to sustain their initial gusto and commitment to the project.  And that’s not too far from the linchpin of all this, which is that folks in the West African communities often prefer to tackle their issues solo and outside of the integrated communal solutions.  Yet while communal spirit is also evident in these communities, the problem is that narcissistic socializing often trumps the noble idea of being ‘my brother’s keeper.’

Many of them regard being involved in community work as fundamentally counterproductive, a mindset rooted in the recognition that having superior college education, skills, experience, and deeper connectedness to the system are enough to assure them desired economic sufficiency.

Mgbatogu is a freelance writer and editor of based in Columbus. He can be reached by email at:

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Commentary , Editor's Choice , Immigrant Community