COMMUNITY VOICES | An awakening East African movement in Minneapolis’ municipal elections


I have lived in Minneapolis since I was 7 years old, and for the first time in my life I have never felt more at home despite owning a housing property and the fact that my kids were all born in Minneapolis. There was always this inherent thought in the back of my mind, which prescribed me to a pre-destined utopia (Somalia) that was compatible with my identity. So I developed a distant relationship to a place, of which my only contact had been a deep sense of love and imagination.

This relationship of joy and sorrow had prompted me to take action in the past several years. I had co-founded a public radio in the Northeastern Somali region of Sanaag (Somali Public Radio). I felt as if it was my duty to try to impact the desperation and the disorder of the powerless, but part of me was in search for a sense of belonging and a place to call home. For the first time in 18 years, the familiar colorful high-rises in Cedar Riverside and the Philips Community Center (former Boys & Girls Club) where I’ve had my first swimming lessons as a child felt like home.

I participated in the campaign efforts of the City of Minneapolis’ municipal elections, which had witnessed a new milestone of huge voter turnouts in Ward 6 since the last national election. The voter turnouts marked the growing diversity of the city, according to the Star Tribune. On Saturday, April 27th, The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party’s (DFL) Ward Convention endorsed Abdi Warsame, the state’s first DFL-endorsed candidate of East African descent.

Warsame, a young community activist, took on incumbent Robert Lillegren and won the DFL endorsement. The news brought on much excitement to the East African community in Minneapolis. Both local and international media outlets arrived at the campaign headquarter packed with a crowd of some 200 well-wishers including friends, families and community organizers.

“The impossibility has turned to a possibility,” Warsame told the crowd in Cedar Riverside neighborhood after a young girl in bright Hijab presented the U.S flag for the pledge of allegiance and a local teenager sang the national anthem.

Candidate’s Background

Abdi Warsame is a community leader and nonprofit organization Director in Minneapolis. Warsame played a key role in the re-districting process, which created the new Ward 6. Mr. Warsame was born in Somalia and grew up in the United Kingdom where he had studied and attained a BSc in Business and a Master’s Degree in International Business. He moved to Minneapolis in 2006, shortly landing a job in the financial sector.

“From the outset, I was mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the city and warmth of its people,” Mr. Warsame told residents of Seward neighborhood, reflecting on his first encounter with the Twin Cities.

He is currently the Board Chair of the Cedar Riverside- Neighborhood Revitalization Program (CR-NRP) as well as the Executive Director of the Riverside Plaza Tenants Association (RPTA). “My transition into the non-profit world stems from my passion to working for my community and impacting ordinary people’s lives,” stated Mr. Warsame at a community meeting in Cedar Riverside.

Changing the Political Map

A city redistricting map proposal was submitted to the Minneapolis Charter Commission on January of 2012 by Citizens Committee for Fair Redistricting, a group representing East Africans. The group was seeking a political map that was reflective of Minneapolis’ growing diversity. “If there was proportional representation on the Minneapolis City Council, five of the 13 wards would be represented by people from the minority population,” said Abdi Warsame, who signed the proposal letter on behalf of the Citizens Committee

Mr. Warsame was the founder and a spokesperson for the Citizen’s Committee for Fair Redistricting, which took part in the redistricting process that aimed to create a more equitable and representative political map of Minneapolis, which would in turn create better opportunities for all residents of the City. The Citizens Committee lobbying was a historic success and today’s current map of the City including Wards 6 and 9 are a testament to their hard work.

Campaign Highlights

The movement surpasses a specific agenda or a political platform. Its core proposition is not only to break barriers and change perceptions but also to lead to natural growth of a common goodwill—collective perception and understanding of local issues and options for improvement.

“This campaign is about transforming our community from isolation into awareness and active participation,” says Mohamed Jama, founder of the Cedar Riverside Youth Council and a campaign organizer.

There was an extraordinary show of support and energy as early as a year away from the DFL caucus night. Volunteers went hard at work pounding the pavement, hosting neighborhood forums and phone banking for Abdi Warsame’s DFL endorsement efforts.

This is a grand movement with multiple themes and layers. “To me it’s about my kids and creating a success story for them,” says Deqa Aden, a campaign volunteer.

And so to me it’s as interior, intimate effort on my part, to understand this movement and to find my place in it, which converges to a broader communal dialogue, a dialogue in which I am professionally engaged, one that will shape our lives and the lives of our children for many years to come.

The Historic DFL Endorsement

Hundreds of delegates gathered in Ward 6 convention at Saint Mary’s University on Saturday April 27th, 2013. History was made as delegates elected the first East African for DFL endorsement with an overwhelming majority. The crowd erupted in cheers and waved American flags when Abdi Warsame stepped up to the podium to address the delegates. He touched on his platform in a summarized speech and drew inspiration from quoting the great Irish thinker George Bernard Shaw who said, “You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say, “Why not?”

Despite what this endorsement means, hundreds from diverse communities came together, embracing the candidate’s unique life experience. It served them as a source of inspiration and as a tool to bridge communities.

Abdulqudus N. Donyale is a co-founder of Somali Public Radio and a campaign organizer for Abdi Warsame. He can be reached at