Somali American Lawmaker in Minnesota Sees Role as Bridge Builder

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Omar Fateh prides himself on outreach to people living in the North American state of Minnesota in trying to make connections and improve conditions, especially in the district of Minneapolis, which elected him to the state Senate a year earlier.

elected in america

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Granthshala is profiling the family ties to Africa of several rising American politicians who are helping to change the face of American politics. they include:

  • Esther Agbaze, Minnesota House of Representatives
  • samba baldehi, Wisconsin State Assembly
  • Umar Fateh, Minnesota State Senate
  • Adoye Ovoleva, DC ‘Shadow’ member for the US House of Representatives
  • nequeta ricks, Colorado General Assembly

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The US-born Somali American said that having “grown up in an immigrant home but within American culture” has equipped him to “bridge the gap between new immigrants as well as those who live here”.

Fateh represents Senate District 62 in South Minneapolis. Its more than 82,000 residents are racially and ethnically diverseMany of Northern European and African American descent, as well as Native American and Hispanic heritage. In recent decades newcomers from Mexico, Asia, East Africa and elsewhere have made the region their home.

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In seeking the office, Fateh said he counts on the advice and support of the district’s “indigenous people, Latino people, East Africans, workers, renters, elderly people – people who work on issues ranging from affordable housing to climate change.” Let’s care about the full list.

He helped get Fateh into the office. In January, he became the first Somali American and the first Muslim to serve in the Senate of Minnesota.

Jolene Johnson praised Fateh for regularly visiting Little Earth—a multiblock affordable housing complex that gives preference to Native Americans—and advising on resources for the community’s many struggling families.

“He doesn’t blow smoke at us. I believe he cares about us,” said Johnson, a longtime resident and member of the Ojibwa tribe. “And it’s a great feeling to know someone you voted for.”

Jolene Johnson, at left, says Minnesota State Sen. Omar Fateh, has been attentive to residents of Little Earth, an affordable housing community primarily for Native Americans in Minneapolis. (Betty Ayoob/Granthshala)

political interest

Fateh, who is in his early 30s, has been interested in politics for over a decade.

He was born in Washington, DC to parents from Somalia. The family moved to a nearby Virginia suburb where she was raised. As a college graduate, Fateh interned for a Democratic U.S. Congressman and, after earning a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, ran for a major seat on the Fairfax County school board in northern Virginia.

Fateh lost the 2015 race, but, as news site Minnepost reported, he gained insight that Minnesota, where he had relatives in the larger Somali American community, could hold more promise for political work. He was encouraged to apply for a job with the city government of Minneapolis doing nonpartisan voter outreach and education. He got the job and left late that same year.

While working in the Minneapolis Elections Office and other government jobs, “I had the chance to meet a lot of great people all over the city,” Fateh told Granthshala. One was Kaltum Mohammed, who grew up in South Minneapolis. There they settled after marriage. “We love it here,” said Fateh, who is now an information technology business analyst at the University of Minnesota.

In 2018, as a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party — Minnesota’s version of the Democratic Party — Fateh unsuccessfully bid for the state’s House of Representatives. Less than two years later, he defeated a three-term incumbent in the primary race for the state Senate—and went on win 89% votes in the general election of that November.

As a self-described Democratic socialist who promotes affordable housing and health care regardless of ability to pay, Fateh said he is a “minority within a minority party” in Minnesota’s Senate. Republicans control that chamber by a small margin; Democrats have an edge in the House. With a divided legislature, the state budget was “very difficult to compromise”, Fateh said.

Minnesota legislator sees role as cultural bridge builder





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Minnesota legislator sees role as cultural bridge builder





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hard vote

The new MP’s district includes the site where George Floyd, a black man, died after a police officer knelt on his neck in May 2020. The death sparked months of protests in communities across the country, along with demands for racial justice. and police reform.

Fateh supported a proposal—which was rejected by Minneapolis voters in early November—to transform the city’s police department into a comprehensive new department of public safety. It would combine police with other professionals specially trained to respond to situations involving mental illness, addiction and housing insecurity.

“We have failed to deliver our positive message,” Fateh wrote in a follow-up email to Granthshala. Instead, “we got away with a massive, out of money effort” to restructure the plan as “defiance of the police”.

Minnesota State Sen. Omar Fateh, in vestment, and legislative aide Dawson Kimyon visit the George Floyd memorial site in Minneapolis, Minn.  (Betty Ayoob/VOA)

Minnesota State Sen. Omar Fateh, in vestment, and legislative aide Dawson Kimyon visit the George Floyd memorial site in Minneapolis, Minn. (Betty Ayoob/Granthshala)

“The people of Minneapolis are quite apprehensive about public safety given what we’ve experienced over the past two years, and I think they voted defensively,” Fateh said, referring to those officials. Considering those who still promised reforms.

On a Saturday in late September, Fateh held a memorial site known as George Floyd Square near the intersection of Chicago Avenue and 38th Street. The image of Floyd emerges from a mural surrounded by flowers and signs such as “Justice. Accountability”.

“People are coming from everywhere to see the monument, to pay respect, but also to these black businesses: coffee shops, restaurants, tea bars,” Fateh said.

uneven recovery

The district of Fateh suffered several businesses during the civil unrest – particularly along the Lake Street commercial corridor – damaged by looting, arson and other violence. Some parts are turning, from the crowded aisles in Mercado Central and booming construction around Carmel, a Somali market packed with stalls offering fashion, food, hair care and other services.

But the struggle continues in the district where, according to census dataOf course, the median household income is about $45,000 and many live on much less.

“It’s been very stressful. It’s been a mental health roller coaster,” said Ikram Mohamed, who runs a childcare center across a boarded-up, fire-blackened building on Lake Street. She cited troubles with inconsistent enrollment, staffing and income due to the pandemic, as well as the presence of drug users, tramps and prostitutes in nearby vacant structures.

Mohamed Fateh was among a handful of care facility operators meeting with what he sometimes described as cumbersome government regulations that hurt his customers and businesses.

“One of the things I try to do is bridge the gap between the immigrant community but the government, the commissioners,” said Fateh, who serves on two Senate committees on health and human services.

Working with constituents is the part of the Electoral Office that Fateh said he finds most satisfying.

Fateh said the legislative process has been short. He cited two main factors: “being in the minority” and, because of the pandemic, mostly engaging in person onscreen with other lawmakers.

“It’s a lot different to argue on a committee than to literally listen to someone beside you, because once you log off, that’s it,” he said. “But when you’re in person, you connect with them on a deeper level instead of arguing and logging off. You can have personal conversations later. And I think that’s really important so that you can do that.” To build a level of trust and respect between each other on both sides.”

This story has been updated to clarify that Omar Fateh moved to Minnesota in 2015 for politics and election work, not seeking political office.,



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