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Somalis making presence felt on Lewiston’s political scene



LEWISTON — The city had three candidates from the Somali community on the local ballot Election Day, each a political newcomer.

All three lost their bids for the School Committee, but three people from the community on the ballot marks a high. Before this year, some elections had one immigrant candidate, and most years there was none.

Tuesday’s results show incumbent at-large candidate Megan Parks received 6,694 votes; challenger Safiya Khalid received 2,619.

In Ward 1, Renee Courtemanche got 775 votes to Ahmed Sheikh’s 516 votes, and in Ward 5 incumbent Luke Jensen won with 409 votes to Hassan Abdi’s 291 votes.

Khalid, Sheikh and Abdi are all in their 20s, products of the Lewiston School Department. Each is a recent graduate of Lewiston High School.

Watching the Somali community grow “is like history repeating itself,” said Rita Dube, founder and former executive director of the Dolard & Priscilla Gendron Franco Center.

It took years for the French Canadian immigrants to find a place in society, she said.

“They were not accepted at first, but slowly succeeded in finding work, learning the language and becoming productive members of the community,” Dube said. “I see this happening with the Somalis.”

Many excel in school, are excellent athletes and more Somali businesses are popping up everywhere, Dube said. “This last election shows how they are climbing their way up to the successes the Francos have had.”

Rilwan Osman, executive director of Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services, said his community is not only producing more candidates, it’s producing a growing voter bloc.

Some 2,500 members of the immigrant community were eligible to vote this year, a number that is rising with every election as more gain citizenship, Osman said.

“Every week, we have at least one individual who is getting citizenship or applying to become a citizen,” he said. Last week, one parent became a citizen. On Monday another passed the citizenship interview.

“We have also seen more parents coming to our citizenship classes,” even though some have not lived in the United States for five years, a requirement for citizenship. They are enrolling to learn and get ready, he said.

He expects there will be more candidates from the immigrant community, and is excited that Hassan, Sheikh and Khalid ran.

“It is time for the community to integrate and be part of the broader community, and this is the best way,” Osman said.

Even though they didn’t win, “from our community’s perspective, they are winners.”

Community leader ZamZam Mohamud agreed. The great part of democracy is “everybody has a chance,” she said. The candidates didn’t want to lose, but seeking public office “is positive. The young generation is coming up, which is great.”

Central Maine Community College’s Roger Philippon, dean of communications and a former Lewiston city councilor, predicted the community will see a Somali candidate win office in the near future.

“We have a large number of Somali students here at CMCC,” he said. “More are becoming actively involved in campus life through the Student Senate, the Muslim Student Association, the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, and the TRIO (student support services) program.”

After years of veteran members serving on the school board, often with no opposition during elections, in recent years there’s been increased interest, Superintendent Bill Webster said.

This year one race, Ward 6, had no candidate, but half of the eight races were contested.

“There’s greater public awareness of the school board with the issues we face in schools,” Webster said, including student test scores, teacher certification and proficiency-based diplomas.

With so many Lewiston students from immigrant families – 25 percent of the student population – it’s good to see more candidates represent that diversity, Webster said.

“We need the active involvement of all our families in the entire community,” he said.


Somali teenager sets her hopes high for the future



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



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



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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