Somalia: Meet Two Young Somali-American Women Who Won City Council Seats in Maine and Minnesota

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Despite ugly smear campaigns to discredit them, violent threats and racist comments 23-year-olds Safiya Khalid and Nadia Mohamed who are both former refugees still managed to secure historic victories by becoming the first Somali-Americans elected to the city council of Lewiston, Maine and St Louis Park, Minnesota respectively.

Oppressive policies towards immigrants and the xenophobic attitude that has been taken up by the US President Donald Trump and his supporters are fortunately not impeding less traditional candidates from gaining political power. Trump's time in office has ironically seen more and more minorities find their way into the political class.

One of them is 23-year-old Safiya Khalid who has been elected to the city council of Lewiston, Maine becoming the youngest person ever elected to the council and its first Somali-American member. When she and her family moved to the United States at the age of 7, they struggled to find community until they moved from New Jersey to Lewiston, Maine. Here she went on to seek a city council seat just over a decade later.

"When we came to the United States, we were first assigned to Elizabeth, New Jersey, but we couldn't adjust to the environment in that area," Khalid told ABC News. "We did not have a sense of community there. ... For me and my family, Lewiston was such a welcoming community."

Tired of hearing anti-immigrant rhetoric from President Trump and former Maine governor Paul LePage, a Lewiston native who once claimed that asylum seekers brought diseases and were the biggest problem facing the state Khalid decided to run for office.

"Minority people were being attacked and felt invisible, because they did not feel represented in positions of power," she told the Washington Post.

To start her off on this path, Khalid received training through Emerge Maine, an organisation that helps Democratic women with political aspirations. After which the budding politician went door to door campaigning on a platform of affordable housing, supporting small business, encouraging investments to the city, addressing lead contamination issues in old homes and expanding resources for the education system.

However, although approx. 36,000 people live in Lewiston, her campaign drew unwanted national attention which white nationalist blogs used to invoke fear mongering claims. She told the Washington Post that, every aspect of her identity was weaponised, and she was attacked for being black, Muslim, a woman and a refugee.

Celebrating her nearly 70% of the vote victory Khalid triumphantly told supporters that "community organizers beat Internet trolls."

Khalid now hopes to pour her newfound, winning energy into what shaped her- public school education.

"I've been telling people since March that I want to build a vibrant community for all residents of Lewiston. We need to focus on our young people, bring them back to Lewiston, and find ways so that they can live and work here. That means going back and focusing on our education," she said. "I want to invest in our students because they deserve the highest quality of education."

"Change takes time and it's hard," she said. "But if you believe in yourself and you believe in your community, anything's possible... We proved that."

Nadia Mohamed

Nadia Mohamed another 23-year-old Somali-American was also recently elected to the city council in St Louis Park, Minnesota. Just like Khalid she too felt disengaged when she moved to the U.S. at the age of 10. She told the Guardian that after living in countries where the majority of people were black it took some time to get used to being somewhere where her race, ethnicity and Muslim faith put her into boxes she hadn't realized existed before.

"It didn't sit well with me that I felt like a visitor, so I started doing community engagement," Mohamed said.

For the last three years, she has worked on the St Louis Park police department's Multicultural Advisory Committee (Mac) to improve relations between different communities in the city. It is through her work that she met Thom Miller whose all-white city council seat she took over.

Miller was quoted by the Sahan Journal saying it was "a hundred percent worth it" to step back from the work he loved on the City Council to make room for a new voice. "If I could have stayed on the council and brought Nadia on board, that would have been great," he said. "But the council is going to be far, far better with Nadia on it than Thom Miller."

As a council member, Nadia plans to focus on affordable housing for low-income people, climate action by helping the city achieve its goal of being carbon neutral by 2040, youth engagement and racial equity.

"I'm a renter, I am youth, I'm a person of colour, I practice a different religion," she said in an interview with a local station. "All those identities might add to a fresh perspective. I know half the issues that the city council talks about. I live through it. When those policies are implemented, it affected me, my family and the whole city."

By using city resources equitably and including more voices in decision-making, she said, St. Louis Park can be "a city that works for everybody."

"Oftentimes we ask for different voices at the table, but we don't take effective action to really get there," Nadia said. "I think St. Louis Park has built up the support and built up the resources to get more people of colour and more people of different backgrounds to come be engaged in the community."

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