UPDATED 9/28/2011 – On September 19, the Cedar Cultural Center hosted the Radical Minds Youth Conference, a conference that addressed issues facing Somali youths. A non-profit organization that works with Somali youth called Ka Joog put on the conference.
Abdul Mohamed, the head of public relations for Ka Joog, said,“This event aims to bring together the youth of the community to discuss issues of radicalization and violence, and how they relate to the community.”
The conference was structured as a panel discussion. In the beginning, it was largely panelists responding to questions posed by members of Ka Joog, but as it continued audience members participated by asking and responding to questions. The panel included several people involved with Ka Joog; Todd Jones, U.S. Attornery for the District of Minnesota; Bob Fletcher, former Ramsey County Sheriff; E.K. Wilson, an FBI Special Agent; Omar Jamal, First Secretary of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Somalia to the U.N., and an officer of the Saint Paul Police Department. About 100 people attended the meeting, and it appeared that roughly two thirds of them were youth.
Mohamed Farah, Ka Joog’s executive director, opened the discussion saying that the conference’s goal would be to “try to touch some of the touchy subjects out there that need dialogue.” The panel began by discussing the issue of ethnic Somali youth being recruited to return to Somalia and fight with militant groups that oppose Somalia’s transitional government. Panelists also asked the audience questions about this topic, such as why Somali youths decide to join those militant groups, and how such recruitment can be prevented. Some in audience said that negative portrayals of Islam in the media cause contribute to Somali youths joining militant groups. Others said that recruiters take advantage of some adolescents who are seeking to learn more about their religion, Islam. Some audience members, however, took issue with focus of the conversation.
One young woman said she felt insulted that government officials assumed that she could answer their questions just because she is Somali. She said, “Please just stop asking us questions we can’t answer. I don’t know why those boys joined Al Shabab and I’m offended that you asked the public that question,” referring to one militant group in Somalia. Others said that gang violence and the number of Somali youths in prison were bigger concerns to them than recruitment to militant organizations and would rather officials’ focus should be on those issues.
After the conference, audience member Hindia Ali said, “Bad or good, it was a dialogue. We have to start talking to each other.” A member of Ka Joog said he thought it was a good discussion. “A lot of people had many things to say that we were not expecting,” he said. He did not think that was bad, though, because, he said, “We want [youth] heard in front of officials.”
Ka Joog will have more events in the future. The group will host a fashion show to raise funds for famine relief in Somalia on October 29, and they hope to have another youth conference in December.
CORRECTION: Date of fashion show is October 29.
Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.