Axad, September, 23, 2018 (RBB NEWS) – A new Columbus initiative aims to get more immigrants and refugees involved in local government and civic issues.
The New Americans Leadership Academy will introduce 15 people to local experts and officials over 11 weeks. Those in the program also will complete service projects with Columbus’ area commissions.
The city took applications through Tuesday and is to notify selected candidates on Monday. The first session begins Oct. 3.
Carla Williams-Scott, director of the city’s Department of Neighborhoods, said participants will learn about how the city, county, state and federal governments work, civic responsibility and working together. There also will be sessions on ethics and diversity — “working with folks different than you,” Williams-Scott said.
Many immigrants and refugees already have taken the initiative to be more involved.
Ismail Mohamed, a Somali-born lawyer who lives in the Linden area, lost in the Democratic primary for an Ohio House seat in May but received close to 40 percent of the vote in challenging Rep. Bernadine Kennedy Kent.
Mohamed, 26, said he thinks some community leaders have not been listening to people in the Somali community and considering their needs. He thinks something such as this academy can educate and empower people.
“It can be a very powerful tool that can be used,” Mohamed said.
In 2017, Stefanie Chambers, an associate professor of political science at Trinity College in Connecticut, wrote a book about the Somali communities in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Columbus and concluded that the overall incorporation of Somalis into the communities is greater in the Twin Cities than in Columbus because of what she called the “unique political and cultural traditions in the Twin Cities.”
In Minneapolis, a Somali-led coalition worked to form more representative wards for underrepresented groups.
Also, the Twin Cities have enough Somali-American law-enforcement members that they formed their own police association.
And in August, Somali-born Ilhan Omar won a Democratic primary in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District and would become the first Somali-American in Congress if elected in November. In 2016, she became the first Somali-American elected to the Minnesota legislature.
Jibril Mohamed, an Ohio State University lecturer and executive director of the nonprofit Somali Community Action Network, said it is difficult for Somali-Americans to break through barriers in the political and public sector and in the workforce. Mohamed, who is also on the city’s Community Relations Commission, said he has spoken to Williams-Scott about boosting the Somali community’s civic participation.
Angie Plummer, executive director of Community Refugee & Immigration Services, said a program such as the city’s can change hearts and minds if new Americans end up working alongside established residents.
“It’s a great effort to get everyone involved if the end goal is integration,” Plummer said.