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Beautiful People: Halima Aden will conquer the World

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In our current political climate, it’s inspiring to see someone like Halima Aden, a Somali-American Kenyan refugee, taking over the industry. The model, who turned 20 just days ago and still has a mouth full of braces, got her start competing in the Miss Minnesota pageant, where she was recognized for being the first participant in the competition’s history to wear a burkini and a hijab; she finished as a semi-finalist. Her admirable commitment to modesty has grabbed the attention of industry heavyweights like Kanye West, who cast her in a Yeezy show, Rihanna for Fenty Beauty and Carine Roitfeld, who put her on the cover of CR Fashion Book’s tenth issue. Aden has since covered Allure and Grazia.

Even with those accomplishments, however, there’s no chance the proud Muslim woman is about to slow down.
When (and where) are you most creative?

I love make-up! While I wasn’t allowed to wear it until I was a bit older, I remember sneaking my sister’s products to try on. I like to get creative and try new things. YouTube make-up editorials are my best friend. Make-up is definitely not a skill I have mastered so I relish every opportunity to sit in the chair with professionals and learn from them. I’ve taken away great advice from everyone I’ve been fortunate enough to work with.

How did you get your start?

I was the first woman in my state to compete in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant wearing a hijab and burkini (a modest swimsuit) this past November. After garnering international media attention for practicing my Muslim faith at the pageant and staying true to who I am, some of the industry’s biggest names reached out to the pageant organizers to offer up some amazing opportunities in the fashion world. I was invited to NYC by iconic stylist Carine Roitfeld to shoot for her magazine, CR Fashion Book. After my first photo shoot ever, which happened to be with the legendary Mario Sorrenti, I landed the cover of CR’s Issue 10 in May. It was during that same trip that I met with IMG Models and signed a contract for global representation a few weeks later.

What are you working on right now? Can you describe any current projects or activities?

Right now, I am working to build a relationship with an organization that has had a huge impact on my life, UNICEF. As a refugee, I remember the important role that UNICEF staff and volunteers had when I was young and living in a camp in Kenya. I recently had the chance to travel to Mexico with UNICEF for their NextGen Summit and it was life-changing. My ultimate goal is to change the world, beyond the fashion industry. Becoming a Goodwill Ambassador would be a dream come true!

What is success to you?

Success is reading a social media message from a young girl who tells me that I am her inspiration. I have been given a voice and platform during the past nine months that I refuse to take for granted. If I can spread a message of hope to those who don’t see themselves or feel represented in any given industry and challenge them to be willing to be the first and give it a shot, I will have succeeded.

Do critics matter?

As a 19 year old, it can be hard to read harsh comments, mostly cyber bullying. I have learned to trust my support system and follow my heart as I know I am doing the right thing and hopefully paving the way for others.

Obviously you’ve seen success in your career but can you tell us about a time you failed?

Ha! If I could tell you the number of times I see a hold come up on my work calendar, only for it to be taken down a few days or weeks later. Just means I wasn’t the right person for the job.

Do you think about legacy?

Making an impression on society that runs so deep people can’t help but remember you – that’s what comes to mind when I think of legacy.

What advice do you have for someone looking to break into your industry?

Just be you!

Did you ever give up (or want to give up)? What were the circumstances?

I am a black, Somali-American Muslim. With modeling being an unknown to my culture and community, it was hard for many to accept at the beginning. On the flip side, having a black, Somali-American Muslim on the runway or magazine stands was an unknown for those outside of my community and culture too. On all sides, it was an unknown and people don’t know how to react to what they are not comfortable and familiar with. With this came some pressure, questioning and backlash. Rarely does anyone want to be the first. I think that with time and those very same people seeing that I’m not changing who I am to get ahead in the industry has turned many of those questioners into my biggest supporters and fans.

What trends in your field do you find most exciting / are you most optimistic about? What about your field is frustrating? What would you like to see change?

I find it exciting that many companies and designers are including such a diverse cast to their advertisements and shows. From plus size models to those over the age of 50 – it’s truly incredible to see the industry recognizing and celebrating beauty in all shapes, colors, sizes. I’m optimistic that inclusion and acceptance will continue to be the trend. I haven’t been in the game long enough to have many frustrations – I’m just learning about being a player in the fashion and modeling world day-by-day and some things are probably just the nature of the beast and not worth being frustrated over. Although, in a career that is extremely last minute and constantly changing, it would be nice to have details and jobs confirmed sooner. But again, just the nature of the beast and I’d rather the opportunities come last minute than not at all.

How do you plan to build on your success so far? Is there anything you fear will set you back?

I recently saw Christie Brinkley in an ad for GAP. As the fashion industry isn’t something I grew up following, I wasn’t familiar with who she was. My manager asked me to guess her age and I thought she was in her 30’s. I was floored to find out she was 63 — are you kidding me? What a timeless beauty! I guess my point is, I know that modeling won’t last forever…unless you are Christie Brinkley. So, to build on my success, I need to treat myself and my branding as a business. Right now, it is important for me to stay relevant in both high fashion and the growing world of modest fashion. I look forward to someday telling my story in a book or movie. Until then, I plan to appreciate every opportunity, show up smiling, work hard, and network! The only thing that can set me back, is me!

What was the first moment you knew you were going to be able to do this as a job – not necessarily your first big break or success, but the first time you thought, “This is it, this is my career”?

This past December, when I traveled to New York for the first time ever, I had the chance to visit Times Square. My manager told me that someday I would be up on one of the billboards we were looking at in amazement of their size and strong presence. I giggled off the idea. When I returned to Times Square, with her in July, I was overcome with emotion as I saw my face on one of the biggest billboards atop the American Eagle store. I never dreamed that a woman wearing a hijab could be a model and there I was… larger than life. That was a really emotional moment for me.

What’s been the biggest choice you’ve had to make in your career so far?

A good education isn’t something that my Somali family and many living in Africa have the opportunity to experience. For me, the decision to postpone my college education after completing my freshman year at St. Cloud State University was a big choice. I know I can always go back to school, but the chance to model won’t always be there.

What is your morning routine like?

Morning? Eeeeek! I am more of a night owl. That being said, when working, I usually have to wake up very early for call times and yes, I need a little coffee or tea to get me going! Once I am on set and meet everyone, I feel energized and ready to give it my all!

What are you most excited about for the future? (Can be about your career, your personal life, the world – anything.)

Giving back is what drives me. I want to leave a positive, lasting handprint on our world. I am most excited about partnering with UNICEF and am eager to continue building that relationship. I would love the opportunity to some day go back to Kakuma, the refugee camp I was raised at in Kenya. Or, to go back to Somalia to visit my relatives and see where I am from.

What are you most worried about for the future?

I tend to worry about other people. I want my brother to be successful as he is starting his senior year of high school, I want my mom to be healthy, I want my nieces and nephews to go for their goals no matter what, I want my sisters to be happy…

Are you good at giving advice? What is the best advice you’ve ever given?

I think it’s always important to look at all sides of a story. I think we live in a society where people are quick to play the victim. While in many cases, their reasoning may be just, I always encourage everyone to look at the big picture. I think that’s the best advice I can give. I remember a time that I was parked in a no parking zone and a couple looked at me and shook their heads as they walked by in disagreement. Passengers in my car said something to the effect of it being because I was wearing a hijab or because I’m black. I said, “No, it’s because I’m parked illegally!”

Are you good at receiving advice? What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

I am a giver by nature. I want to help people who have helped me and I feel an obligation to support family members that I have never even met. While I recognize this quality is admirable, it can also be my biggest hindrance in building a successful career. The best advice I’ve received is to protect myself and work hard now to build my business so that down the road I really can help people I care for. Right now, I’m just starting a career and not in a position to be help everyone I would like to. I know with due time and hard work, I can become successful enough to provide a nice life for my family.

What makes a person beautiful? What makes you beautiful?

When people are unapologetically the best authentic version of themselves, now that’s beautiful!

What are you most proud of?

I’m proud of trying to live my life with no regrets. I’ve taken a chance to explore avenues many other young Muslim women haven’t for one reason or another — joining choir at school, being elected a member of the student government, winning the title of Homecoming Queen, participating in a beauty pageant, becoming a professional model. It’s my hope that I am sending a message to young women everywhere that they can do it…don’t hold back! I want these young women to know that their fellow women support them and are lifting them up — I am your biggest cheerleader!

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Diaspora

Somali teenager sets her hopes high for the future

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AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – War shattered 14-year-old Manaal’s dreams for the future. Now safe in the Netherlands, with new friends, her spirits are soaring once more.

“I have only been in an airplane once and that is when we arrived here from Somalia,” says Manaal, who fled the country with her family. “In the airplane, I felt butterflies in my stomach the whole time. I saw a movie about a stewardess and she looked so pretty and smart that I decided I want to become a stewardess as well.”

Twenty-eight long years of conflict have left Somalia reeling. The peaceful canals and cafes of Amsterdam, where Manaal found safety in 2014 , have offered the youngster a refuge she could barely have imagined.

Manaal is one of 12 refugee and asylum-seeking children living in Europe who star in a new project that lets their imagination run free.

Titled The Dream Diaries, the project sees the young refugees and asylum-seekers reveal their hopes and dreams from the safety of their new homes in Austria, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
“In the airplane, I felt butterflies in my stomach
the whole time.”

The series was produced by Humans of Amsterdam photographer Debra Barraud, her colleague Benjamin Heertje, Dutch graphic designer Annegien Schilling, filmmaker Kris Pouw and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

In it, Manaal dreams of becoming an air stewardess. A portrait shows her sitting on the wing of an airplane, soaring through a picturesque evening sky.

After 5 long years of separation from her father, who was the first to flee to Europe in a desperate bid to find a better life for his family, air travel means more to Manaal than most.

“When we arrived at the airport, I finally saw my dad again,” she tells The Dream Diaries team. “So I ran up to him and hugged him really tight.”
“When children flee their home countries, they leave everything behind, except their hopes and dreams,” says co-creator Debra Barraud, whose Humans of Amsterdam photography project has over 400,000 Facebook followers. “Through the project we saw the strength of these children and how with the right support they can achieve anything.”

Audiences are being encouraged to stand #WithRefugees by signing UNHCR’s global petition, which asks decision makers to grant refugees safety, education and opportunities – turning their dreams into reality. You can follow The Dream Diaries series via Humans of Amsterdam, Fetching Tigerss and UNHCR’s social accounts.

“My dream is to be a flight attendant,” says Manaal, who will never forget the elation of her first flight – to safety. “I want to be able to travel, see Paris and have butterflies in my stomach. I want to see the entire world.”

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Diaspora

Maine’s 1st Somali police officer busted at Mass. concert

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LA TIMES — Maine’s first Somali police officer is on paid leave during an investigation after her arrest over the weekend in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Worcester police charged Zahra Munye Abu, of Portland, with several misdemeanors including assault and battery, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

Police say the 26-year-old caused a disturbance at a Ja Rule and Ashanti concert at the Palladium Nightclub. She was arrested Saturday night, and posted bail early Sunday.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck confirmed Abu’s arrest, but declined further comment.

Abu was born in a Kenyan refugee camp before coming to Maine. She graduated from the University of Southern Maine and became a police officer in 2016. The Associated Press could not locate a phone number for her, and it’s unclear if she has a lawyer.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Diaspora

Portland police officer whose hiring made history is put on leave after arrest in Massachusetts

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PRESS HERALD — Zahra Munye Abu, the first Somali immigrant to serve on the city’s force, is charged in Worcester with five misdemeanors, including assault.

A 24-year-old Portland police officer has been charged with five misdemeanors, including assault and battery, after being arrested Saturday night at a concert venue in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Worcester police said Zahra Munye Abu, of Portland, is also facing charges of trespassing, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace.

Abu caused a disturbance while attending a Ja Rule and Ashanti concert at the Palladium Nightclub on Main Street, said Worcester police Sgt. Kerry F. Hazelhurst.

“The nightclub was hosting several live musical acts,” Hazelhurst said in an email. “She was (given) several opportunities to leave and refused. Eventually she was placed under arrest.”

Worcester police would not provide more details about the incident, and members of Abu’s family declined to comment when contacted by phone at their home.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said Abu has been placed on administrative leave with pay pending a review of the matter.

“The Portland Police Department was notified late Saturday night of the arrest of Police Officer Zahra Abu in Worcester, Massachusetts,” Sauschuck said in an email. “This issue will be dealt with as a personnel matter from this point forward, so I will have no further comment.”

Chris Besaw, the Palladium general manager, declined to comment about the arrest or what occurred before local police became involved.

Abu was bailed out of jail at 1 a.m. Sunday, Hazelhurst said. He did not know the bail amount. She is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in Worcester District Court.

Abu is a high-profile member of the Portland police force because she is the first member of Maine’s Somali immigrant community to become a police officer in Maine.

She was born to Somali parents in a Kenyan refugee camp and has lived in Portland since she was 2 years old. She graduated from Deering High School in Portland and studied criminal justice and women-and-gender issues at the University of Southern Maine.

If convicted, Abu faces a maximum penalty of up to 2½ years in a county jail on the assault and battery and the resisting arrest charges. Each of the other charges include less severe maximum penalties.

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