Minneapolis Project. Transformational moments when life takes a turn.

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At 18  moved into  apartment over Grays Drugs Store that Bob Dylan had lived in and got a job in Dinkytown at Sammy Ds.. Mama D had this great community reputation. Police would come in and eat for free. She would have free meals twice a year and people would line up around the block. People didn’t know she …

I just thank god I was able to have the vision at that time, to know that I needed to get away. There were a series of events that happened during my 8th grade year. I got introduced to crack and how you could make money off of it. I got introduced to guns. The gang life had really turned up in south Minneapolis. Some high-ranking gang showed up…

It was a weekend. Someone knocked on the door. We didn’t  know we had the right not to answer. … There weren’t close relationships within the apartment complex for people to tell us: “If ICE comes don’t open your doors.” My dad opened the door…

The fourth precinct occupation rearranged our life — the things we did to make sure the family was safe. My son would follow me to make sure I got home safely. There was a lot of toying around with our different phones. I’m sure my phone was tapped. Many people’s phones were tapped. But it was a positive experience. People came together from a place of hurt and stood for justice. It was an indescribable feeling. I think about it a lot; how exhausted people can be. Many put in way more time than me —out there for days and nights. I was able to come and go. Go to work, come back. There were times I didn’t go to work….

 

We were in an evangelical church talking to the congregation — a Know Your Rights forum put together by UnidosNow. We were following an agenda. An idea came to me out of the blue. I saw a group of young kids and I said ‘Pastor, can we bring the children forward? Can we pray for them? Because from this congregation we are going to have the next President, Senator, Congressman, Doctor, Lawyer.

People began shouting “Amen’! and “Praise the Lord!” …

I wrote a poem, Asking For It,  that went not exactly viral, but bacterial. It has had over 800,000 views. I think it can be hard to talk about sexual violence using humor…

I wanted to be a nutritionist. I applied to work in dietary at the hospital. I could say the hospital was profiling me way back then. I don’t know. They put me in pediatrics.

As it turned out, I was so good in pediatrics that the doctors said they wanted me to work with them in the treatment room. I didn’t know a darn thing! …

The city has changed since I first came. I used to walked along 2nd Avenue — that area where the Guthrie Theater is now. It was mostly youth of color who hung out and lived there. Now it is ….

I was at a big Movement for New Society meeting and someone said “Alright— the lesbians have to caucus.” Every single woman but me got up and left! I was like “Oh my gosh! All my friends are lesbians!” It was suddenly a possibility. A really …

I went to an all Black college in Mississippi — Alcorn College. It was affordable for poor people. I was studying Home Economics. Oscar Howard, in Minneapolis, was working for Tuskegee, recruiting people for their food service program. He convinced me to transfer. At Tuskegee you could go to school one semester and work the next — paid Internships. I did one internship in a hospital in a small town near Miami, Florida and one in Minneapolis. I preferred Florida but …

When I came back from Chiapas in 1998 and I worked on Lake Street , the whole landscape had changed! There were so many Latinos! In the 1990s there was a bubble of jobs here and people flocked to Minnesota. Then the bubble burst and people …

Our migration to Minneapolis started with my Uncle Dale. My family has always been musical. My uncle was in all kinds of Country Western and Country Western Blues bands. Sometime in the ’70s he got a gig in Minneapolis at an old bar right on Nicollet Ave. He came back and said, “Its AMAZING there! There’s the American Indian Movement, incredible bands… I’m moving, I’m getting out of the prairie for awhile…”
One by one…

I became popular in California. I was from Minnesota. I was different. Interesting. It made me outgoing. It allowed me to be an individual — to formulate my own thought processes. On the other hand, as a kid in California there were no…

At age 18 I had my first daughter Jasmine. That is when my life took a 360 degree shift. I became a single mother . I knew that the border life was not what I wanted for my baby. I…

In 2012 I was watching the news. I heard a conversation about a young Black kid,Trayvon Martin who was killed that by that guy — George Zimmerman.  I …

One summer night when we were sitting outside and our kids were playing, one woman said, “I wish we could just order some pizzas.” We knew we couldn’t afford that. As we started talking about getting together some grilled cheese sandwiches for the kids, another woman said, “Watch my kids for a little bit” She came back a half hour later with money for pizza. She had …

I first met my wife at Tuskegee, but she didn’t know nothing about me then. Coincidentally she came to Minneapolis to do an internship for the Industrial Catering company. I was working on the top of a roof …

 

I worked alone at the bar, but I was supposed to have a lunch break and a free meal as part of my contract. The manager said “You can eat at the bar between customers.” I said “No. I need a break. You give me my free sit-down meal or I will have pickets out on the sidewalk.”

I had never been to a union meeting. The only thing …

Poetry 101 with Cary Waterman. I took the class so I would have more to talk about with this playwright/poet …8

I had an “inner city” internship in college in 1970. We went to a big meeting in North Minneapolis. It could have been organized by The Way — …

I wasn’t good at school. I could do the tests really well but I could not sit still in class. I ended up getting myself in trouble. My friends and I were stealing cars in the neighborhood. The first time I got caught they took me to the JDC but because I looked older they put me in with the adults…

My coworkers were working class conservative white men. There was one guy there who was kinda radical and he turned me on to Democracy Now. …

 

As a teenager I hated Northeast Minneapolis. It seemed redneck. Old. I got a job in downtown Minneapolis working at the yogurt bar at Daytons in 1985. It felt like an opening to the rest of the world. Music also taught me about the wider world. My Dad was a record collector. He listened to everything. I learned about Central America and Afghanistan listening to Washington Bullets by The Clash. Sun City …,

One of the things I enjoyed most about the trip to India was being with other kids who looked liked me and had my American experiences. They knew what a double cheeseburger was. We could talk about Dunkin Doughnuts….

I went to Calcutta, where my orphanage (INH) was….

After Ferguson, three things happened.

1) I began viewing everything through a racial lens. It was like pulling a middle block on a Jenga tower. All the other blocks began falling at once.

2) For a few weeks in Ferguson the media shined a light on White Supremacy so that other White people I interacted with could see. I had ammunition when I talked to them. Not everyone understood, but at least we shared a set of facts.

3) …

Because of the Zapatista Movement, I saw many…

I was invited to attend a Critical Resistance conference in September 2009. Their goal is a complete dismantling of the prison industrial complex. I was in a session with individuals talking about their difficulties in getting jobs with a record. It was really hard for me because I had a criminal record and I was pardoned and I didn’t have those problems. It was an important weekend for me. I met people from Minnesota who were active on the North side. During the key note address, Angela Davis asked all who had been incarcerated to stand. At that point only a few member of my family and close friends knew..,

Me and a couple others organized Second Chance Day on the Hill. No budget. We just said hey, lets do this. We brought 900 ex-offenders to the rotunda. Most of them had never been in the capital. Some of those guys thought you had to …

Ferguson happened around that time. My eyes were glued to the TV for days. I thought about this young individual who made a mistake – made a poor decision – but did not deserve the action that unfolded. Looking up on the screen, I realized that person could have of been me. I know when I was young I made stupid mistakes… For the first time in my life, I found out what some of the American population thought about me as an African American. While I had always heard those negative viewpoints, I never thought ….

When I first started teaching classes I would have 30-40 kids. In one class there was only one non-white student — a Somali kid. I was new to teaching. I remember the students smirking and snickering to each other as I tried to teach racial formation theory. First I got really angry. I lectured to them, asserting my authority. I know that’s a privilege. My female colleagues tell me it is always a struggle for them to maintain authority, especially when teaching controversial stuff.

I didn’t realize my students ….

A few months in, there was a notice about a union meeting in the union newspaper. At the bottom it said people who do not go will be fined. My friend showed me the article. He had highlighted the last line in yellow. I..,

Here in the U.S., I hear a lot of people say that we need a revolution. I always tell them that I have been through a revolution—the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

I was involved in the student protests when I started college. There was a lot of unity as the revolutionary struggle developed: All the organizations–religious, communist, socialist and lots of others—united to make the revolution happen. It was through the revolutionary struggle that I learned about how the U.S. was involved in installing the Shah. I grew up in the relatively comfortable middle class; I was shocked to learn that many people in my country didn’t have water or electricity.

After the Revolution everyone promised to stay united, ….

 

After that bad relationship I really didn’t know who I was. I had no idea of my value as a person. Being a nanny was rehabilitating to my soul and self. Those little girls — they gave me a reason to get up. I learned to love them more than myself. It was out in Burnsville – far enough so my friends didn’t come out and visit. I had  ..,

I was dressing up to go to work, learning new skills and getting good feedback. It felt good. Until one day, they told me I was fired for “lying on the job application about my criminal record.”

But I didn’t lie….

 

 

One time that I felt a sense of community at South High School is when I participated in a Black Lives Matter walkout. We walked in the middle of the street from South to Martin Luther King Park …

Mustafa Diriye. Colleges, Coffee Shops and a Mosque.

 

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I interviewed Mustafa on June 3, 2016, the same day the news broke that the three young Minneapolis men, Somali Americans, were found guilty by an all White Minneapolis jury, of conspiring to join ISIS. The men were entrapped by a FBI informant and never acted on their plans.

I was in a refugee camp in Utanga in the Mombasa region of Kenya from 1991 to  1995. My sister was in San Jose, California and sponsored us, so that is where we went first. My brother had a teaching degree. He came to Minnesota to see if he could get a job. The rest of us followed him. When he visited Minneapolis he was looking for three things: a Mosque, education opportunities, and coffee shops. He found them in the Twin Cities.

My first impression of Minneapolis? Cold! I had a t-shirt. Thats it. I almost lost my hearing going outside with only a t-shirt. It was November 1996.

The city has changed since I first came. I used to walked along 2nd Avenue — that area where the Guthrie Theater is now. It was mostly youth of color who hung out and lived there. Now it is it like the suburbs moved to the city. Fancy condos and white people.

I worked for American Express Corporation for 14 years in downtown Minneapolis. It was such a strange atmosphere at  lunch time. The downtown  workers were more than 90 percent white. It was very different from other U.S. cities I have visited: Chicago, Philadelphia Nashville. Even San Jose had more Asians and Latinos working downtown. It is strange because the neighborhoods surrounding downtown are mostly people of color, but they don’t have the jobs. It’s like downtown Minneapolis is a private district, and the owners only hire white.

In 2011 I lost my job. I was newly unemployed just as the Occupy movement began. One of my friends was a union activist and he invited me to come down. It was really inspiring. I spent everyday there from early morning to night, but I would not sleep there.  I thought about Tiananmen Square. I was afraid of the police, the FBI especially being Muslim.  

I still communicate with some of the people I met during Occupy. The movement didnt die. People just got involved in other things. I have met some of the same people in Black Lives Matter, Minnesotans Against Islamophobia, and at the 4th precinct Occupation last fall.

Today I work with an education reform organization that focuses on getting parents involved, empowering them to help their kids get the best education. My colleagues are Puerto Rican, Black, and Hmong and we get along really well. The biggest obstacles to Somali parent involvement in the schools are a) working different shifts and several jobs; b) an attitude that if my kid is doing OK I dont care what is happening to anyone else; c) a severe breakdown in trust. The parents dont trust me, or their kids  teachers, or other parents. Part of that is the tribalism we did not leave at home. However the mistrust has grown, due to the  role of the FBI recruiting informants. No one trusts anyone.  Not even our religious leaders — the only ones who can really help us deal with the trauma and the internal divisions. The FBI is sowing distrust in the community.Now, when there is suffering within our families people do no reach out for help. They just endure or get divorced. We have more and more single mothers.

Those young men accused and found guilty of being ISIS sympathizers are in their early 20s. They have experienced a lot of discrimination. The FBI informant was just 19 years old when he was paid $119,000 to set them up, get them high on marijuana, and egg them on.  Now they face life sentences. When Donald Trump talks about beating people up, when he says he could kill someone and not get arrested, well, he is right! It is the double standard that infuriates me. 

The Somalis who came to Minnesota  spent years in refugee camps. Many never had a chance to finish high school. We suffer from the trauma of war. I was nine years old when a gun was put to my head. My brother was killed in Mogadishu 1990. I saw more than 100 dead people lying in a field. These experiences stay with you.

When we came everyone had four goals: get an education, own our own businesses, practice our faith, and go back home. Now, 30 years later, very few plan on going back home. There is little for us back home. We are staying here, and putting down roots. We are  getting college degrees 60% of Somali women and 30% of Somali men in Minnesota have college degrees. We have our own malls and whole neighborhoods dominated by Somalis. We are getting into politics.  

How do we create healthy communities? We need homes people can afford. We need police to come from the communities they serve. We now have three Somali police who came from the neighborhood and crime has gone down to a trickle. I think instead of a two-year certificate, police should go to college four years. One of those years should be spent engaging in community service, not as cops but as social service agents.

I think Bernie Sanders is putting forth the kind of agenda that Minneapolis needs. He has nearly unanimous Muslim support. African American Muslims, Asian Muslims, African Muslims Arab Muslims. We all support the White Jewish guy who is saying something different.  The other candidates are offering more of the same oppression for us. Islamophobia. If the pattern continues we will be like the Jews in Germany in 1940 .

Islamophobia is a daily trauma in my community. It is so normal that many stories are not even told anymore. We have the triple whammy. We are Black. We are Immigrant. We are Muslim. The women get picked on more. People drive by and yell go back to where you came from.Just today I heard from a mother whose daughter is a crossing guard. A kid yelled She is ISIS, run! and all the kids ran away from her. The mom put the story on Facebook and her page was full of threats. These are everyday experiences for us.

Talking like this makes me hopeful. It is this kind of exchange of experiences that we need. But I am always hopeful. If people survived Hitler, humanity will survive.

Minneapolis Project. 

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