Healing and elevating a refugee community can seem like a distant task. These necessary elements can seem like a hazy unattainable goal, like a distant mirage through oily heat waves. Breaking through this barrier feels as refreshing as a light misty breeze.
Szymczak Grant recipient Alexandrea Newell and Nadreen Bogoun have been alleviating the pain of a Somali refugee community in Minneapolis Minnesota. Newell shares a profound breakthrough moment in her reflection peace which puts smiles on the faces of the Center for Peacemaking geting to witness progress in Peace.
In this place, I have been welcomed. In this place, I have been accepted. In this place, I have been inspired. In this place, I have been loved. In this place, I have been.
The Somali community of Minneapolis, Minnesota has become my community. To know a place, I had thought that one needed to trace the stiches that interweave land and people. What, then, happens when a people are torn from a land? When they are immigrants, refugees, exiles? When a country’s independence day is a day of mourning for the loss of its unity? When the national anthem has become a funeral dirge, in memoriam to a nation branded as anarchy? To know a place like this is to gather the threads of its history.
Somali history is not bounded volumes, chronicles of victory, and bolded lessons. It is the fables I heard across the patchwork campfire on our first weekend here. It is the memories neatly laid out in a language so lyrical, it is almost an injustice so see it bound in printed characters. It is the prayers rising up between the neon lights as I write this. Theirs is an oral tradition that stretches beyond timelines. Introducing yourself means listing fourteen generations of names. Past, present and future are held in these words.
Ka Joog Nonprofit Organization exists for the sole purpose of the youth. So the mission statement begins. These children were born into the place of Somalia though many of them have never seen it. Steeped in the stories of the homeland like the endless pots of tea that set conversations adrift, they are Somalia. “Today we make history” was a cheer one young boy began as he and his friends embarked on their first ever camping trip with Ka Joog. The others echoed it enthusiastically, and with time, the words grew. They became truth. I watched as these same boys went from standing on picnic tables reading the poems I helped them form in a camp workshop to standing in a conference room before representatives of the Department of Homeland Security eloquently stating their hopes and their concerns for their community.
I wrote this poem as a dedication to the Somali people, their strength and their struggle. I said just this as I performed it at an open mic night at a local restaurant, paired with the melody and refrain of the Somali National Anthem sung by my coworker and friend Abdihakim. The small tiled room quieted and we began:
Today we make HISTORY
We say what we wish to be
We pray from sweet memory
The past will not end with me
You say it’s a mystery
My faith and the risk of me
I say there’s a bliss to be
Free, proud, and Somali
(SOMALI NATIONAL ANTHEM CHORUS)
Pages of pride pressed in gold-lettered hide
Chapters of hate stack shelves sealing my fate
Proclaim in my name this unspeakable shame
Defame and then blame but I am not the same
In poison pen I am branded
Broken and empty-handed
My tears like black ink smeared
War paint and tribal ties
I can’t hide when my eyes are burned on the inside
You say terror runs in my veins
Subcutaneous cursive of verses profane
Instantaneous curses averse to my name
My words are my creed
Preserved as I speak
I’ve watched the stars fade like bullet holes in the night
I’ve seen the knots made in the trunk of the tree of life
I’ve breathed deep the smoke from the funeral pyre
Released it, knowing it’s bound for something higher
HISTORY is whispered over the embers of the flame
HISOTORY is written in the wrinkles on her face
HISTORY is waiting in his fingers interlaced
HISTORY is wrapped in her veil neatly laid
HISTORY is trapped till we see it as it’s made
We are where we’re meant to be
We speak freedom, we seek peace
From war to solidarity
We’ve been torn, but still we keep
A voice, a truth, a name, belief.
Say it now. Say it with me.
Today – We Made – HISTORY