By Tracey Tong –
A woman who came to the United States as a Somali refugee is poised to become America’s first Somali American state legislator.
Ilhan Omar, 33, spent four years in a Kenyan refugee camp as a child before arriving in Virginia with her family 20 years ago. The family later relocated to Minnesota. Omar is a community and political activist who has served as director of policy initiatives for a group that counsels East African women on civic involvement and leadership and as a policy aide and campaign manager for Minneapolis City Councilman Andrew Johnson.
Omar won the Aug. 9 Democratic primary for District 60B of the Minnesota House over 22-term incumbent Phyllis Kahn and another Somali American, Mohamud Noor. She will be the Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate in the November general election and is favored to win in the Democratic-leaning district which includes parts of Minneapolis.
Minnesota’s Somali population, which is estimated to be around 40,000, is gaining influence in the state. People with roots in this part of the globe have also won seats on the Minneapolis City Council and school board recently.
Omar is very aware of the Minnesota Somali community’s challenges, which include unemployment, housing and security issues. Her priorities are to close the opportunity gap in the educational system, work on criminal justice reform and take on policing reform. She also wants to see assistance given to minority entrepreneurs, especially minority women who need a hand in starting their business.
Omar hopes that her recent win lets young women and girls know that they can raise money, break stereotypes and accomplish what they put their minds to.