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St. Cloud Somali Market Receives 15K Grant, to Better Serve Community

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WJON ST. CLOUD — A Somali market can now provide more culturally based foods for the St. Cloud metro area.

With the help of a $15,308.72 grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Good Food Access Program, Minnesota Halal Meat and Grocery will be able to provide more healthy and culturally significant foods to the Granite City.

The grocery store is planning on installing a dairy cooler, walk-in freezer, a produce display as well as adding more shelving throughout the store.

Minnesota Halal Meat and Grocery applied for the grant with the goal to better serve the the local Somali community as well as the St. Cloud community as a whole.

The ethnic market was one of eight Good Food Access Program Equipment and Physical Improvement Grant Recipients.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture awards nearly $150,000 in grants each year to businesses looking to increase the availability of and access to affordable, healthy, and culturally appropriate foods, specifically in middle to lower middle class areas.

Minnesota Halal Meat and Grocery is located at 205 East St. Germain Street in St. Cloud.

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Arts & Culture

Aar Maanta & Minneapolis’s Cedar Cultural Center Win $50,000 Joyce Awards

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Ordway Center for the Performing Arts and the Cedar Cultural Center

Win $50,000 Joyce Awards

Grants Awarded by the Joyce Foundation Will Support New Works Focusing on Diverse Cultures by Musician Aar Maanta and Performer Rosy Simas

CHICAGO, Jan. 17, 2018 —  The Joyce Foundation announced today that two art collaborations – the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts and Rosy Simas Danse, as well as the Cedar Cultural Center and Aar Maanta – have each been awarded a 2018 Joyce Award to activate their respective community engagement artworks in the Twin Cities.

The Cedar Cultural Center will partner with Somali musician, Aar Maanta, to produce what is believed to be the first bilingual album of children’s songs tentatively entitled,Children’s Songs from the Somali Diaspora.

The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts will commission Rosy Simas (Seneca, Heron Clan) to create “Weave,” an intersectional Native dance project that examines the interwoven and interdependent nature of our world.

The 2018 Joyce Awards marks the Joyce Foundation’s 15th year offering the prize. Started in 2003, the Joyce Awards is the only regional program dedicated to supporting artists of color in major Great Lakes cities with the goal of elevating their visibility and recognition in their craft. A distinctive feature of the Joyce Awards is the call for commissioned artists and their host institutions to include a robust community engagement plan as a main component of their projects. Maanta and Simas will engage in community forums, workshops, panel discussions, and one-on-one conversations to create their productions.

“These new works will provide storytelling in fascinating mediums for those young and old,” said Ellen Alberding, President of the Joyce Foundation. “It is so important to support these Twin Cities artists and organizations so they can bring to life the diverse stories of the communities their work highlights.”

The competition has awarded nearly $3.25 million to commission 59 new works and collaborations between artists and cultural organizations in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Minneapolis/St. Paul. The $50,000 award is used towards supporting an artist in the creation and production of a new work and providing the commissioning organization with the resources needed to engage potential audiences, new partners, and their surrounding communities at large.

Minnesota has seen the most Joyce Awards winners with 20 of the 59 total awards to date, delivering $1 million in artistic funding.

“The Twin Cities consistently bring forward impressive projects that position artists as community illuminators and problem solvers,” said Tracie D. Hall, Culture Program Director at the Joyce Foundation. “We are not only excited for the work that Aar Maanta and Rosy Simas will produce but also for the impact these projects have the potential to leave behind.”

The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts & Rosy Simas Danse

Rosy Simas is a designer and director of dance, a solo and collaborative performer, and a multidisciplinary teacher, curator and mentor of diverse artists.  A Native feminist, Simas critically centers Native cultural/political persistence while engaging a range of political, social, cultural and personal subjects.

In “Weave,” individual histories will be woven into a performance that envelops the audience in an immersive experience of story, dance, moving image, and sound.  It will be presented in January 2019 as part of the Ordway’s Music & Movement Series.

“Receiving the Joyce Award not only makes possible the Ordway’s commission of ‘Weave,’ but will also support engagements that draw people deeply into both Rosy’s creative process, and the artwork that she and her collaborators create,” said Jamie Grant, President & CEO of the Ordway. “We couldn’t be more excited to be a part of the project, and we are very grateful to the Joyce Foundation.”

“My work furthers an ancestral model of dialogic, peaceful and cross-community-centered direction in my creative process,” said performer Rosy Simas. “Weave will begin in, and return to, community as a way of giving back and remaining engaged with Native people.”

“Weave” collaborating organizations include the O’Shaughnessy Auditorium at St. Catherine’s University.

The Cedar Cultural Center & Aar Maanta

Aar Maanta is a Somali musician whose activism, work and creativity led him to become a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Council (UNHCR), while leading one of the only active live bands in the world that plays Somali music. His work includes the recent UNHCR campaign about irregular youth migration in the Horn of Africa, Dangerous Crossings, for which his song “Tahriib” was reproduced and performed in collaboration with leading artists from Africa.

Working with his band and other musicians from Minnesota, Aar Maanta will collaborate with Somali youth in Minneapolis’s Cedar Riverside neighborhood to write and record the first-ever bilingual Somali children’s album, which will be released and performed live at the Cedar in 2019.

“This project was inspired by the creativity and passion of the young people I worked with during my previous Cedar residencies, and more recently in refugee camps of Horn of Africa,” said musician Aar Maanta. “I am very excited to get to work more closely with Minneapolis youth and children on this project. It will be a groundbreaking collaboration because it will channel their own experiences into a beautiful album that can speak to young Somalis and children in the United States and throughout the diaspora.”

With millions of young Somalis growing up in diaspora communities around the world, the album aims to provide affirmation and connection to the Somali American youth experience.

“The Cedar has been building a cherished relationship with Aar Maanta for many years,” said Jessica Rau, Program & Artistic Director at the Cedar. “Our past residencies with him have been significant and meaningful for all of the people he has reached through his time in Minneapolis. The Joyce Award will deepen this impact by allowing Aar Maanta to collaborate with youth in our neighborhood to produce a tangible album of new work that will reach people around the world and last for generations to come.”

 

Additional 2018 Award Winners

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit will commission a new theatrical work entitled Salt City by poet and playwright jessica Care moore, reflecting on themes of gentrification and cultural erasure, a much-debated effect of the Motor City’s economic revitalization.

Dancer and choreographer, Onye Ozuzu, will be commissioned by Chicago’s Links Hallfor a production that looks at black migration and the city’s unique connections to Haiti and Louisiana.

To view the Joyce Awards’ 15th Anniversary video, please click here.

For more information on the foundation and the Joyce Awards, please visitwww.JoyceFdn.org.

About The Joyce Foundation

The Joyce Foundation invests in policies, informed by evidence, to improve quality of life, promote safe and healthy communities, and build a just society for the people of the Great Lakes region. The Chicago-based foundation pursues those goals through grants to help prepare the region’s young people to thrive in education, career, and community, and to advance racial equity and economic mobility. The private, nonpartisan foundation centers its grant making in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, and seeks opportunities to collaborate on promising policies in other states or at the federal level. It pursues policy and systems reform in five program areas: Education & Economic Mobility, the Environment, Gun Violence Prevention & Justice Reform, Democracy, and Culture.  Joyce was established in 1948 by Beatrice Joyce Kean, sole heir to the Joyce family of Clinton, Iowa, which accumulated its wealth in the lumber and related industries. Joyce has budgeted charitable disbursements of $50 million in 2018, on assets of approximately $1 billion. For more information, please visit www.JoyceFdn.org, or follow us on Twitter (@JoyceFdn) or Facebook (/JoyceFdn).

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Health

Somali woman researches health risks of skin-lightening practices

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Ibrahim Hirsi

For some Somali women, having lighter skin tone is the ultimate beauty goal and they use skin products containing dangerous chemicals to reach that goal, according to a new University of Minnesota study.

“To be a beautiful Somali woman, one has to have lighter skin color,” Amira Adawe, co-author of “Skin-Lightening Practices and Mercury Exposure in the Somali Community,” said in a recent interview describing the attitude of some women.

Several Somali women who were interviewed for the study published in July said they mix products that include lemon herbal whitening cream, lulanjina, diana and dermovate — some of which have mercury, a poison that can damage the nervous system, according to the study.

“These chemicals are proven neurotoxins and have been linked to birth defects if used by women during the prenatal period,” stated the study. “Inorganic mercury exposure is associated with rashes, skin discoloration, scaring, secondary bacterial and fungal infections, and even renal impairment and damage to the nervous system.”

The study added: “It should also be noted that mercury … can be transferred from mother to infant through breast milk.”

The Minnesota Department of Health recently tested 27 bleaching products, 23 creams and four soaps. The department found that 11 products contained mercury levels ranging from 135 to 33,000 parts per million. “This has prompted both state and federal health officials to issue warnings about the use of these products,” according to the study.

Although Minnesota law bans beauty products that contain mercury, the study said that immigrants have been smuggling the cosmetics from Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The products are then secretly sold in Twin Cities-area stories.

“This is not practiced by only Somali women,” said Adawe, a health educator at St. Paul-Ramsey County Department of Public Health. “It’s widely used by Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans.”

Skin-lightening practices

There are various reasons some Somali women rub their body twice a day with skin-bleaching substances, the study stated. Some of them use the chemicals to get rid of the facial masks of pregnancy, which are pigments women develop during pregnancy.

These pigments often appear on cheekbones, forehead, nose, forearms and other parts of the body that are exposed to the sun. Women with darker skin are more prone to skin pigmentation than those with fair skin tone, health reports suggest.

The study indicated that women also use skin-lightening products to attract men. “They see having light skin as more socially acceptable and believe it will increase their chances of finding a husband,” according to the study.

Adawe, who was born in Somalia, said she knows many Somali women who use the products. “You can tell who uses it and who doesn’t,” she said. “You can’t mistake it with naturally light-skin people. These creams give people more of yellowish color.”

Adawe said the women who use the products often aren’t open about the practice. “Actually, they’ll deny when you ask them,” she said.

How study began

Growing up in Mogadishu and in Minneapolis, Adawe said she encountered many women who regularly used the skin-lightening products. She said became involved in the study a few years ago after coming across an article about bleaching cosmetics that reportedly contained mercury. Adawe said he began to worry about the health of women she knew who used these products, so she started investigating the issue in 2011.

After several interviews with Somali women in the Twin Cities, Adawe learned that some of the women used products containing mercury. Adawe then took her findings to officials at the St. Paul and Ramsey County health department. Soon after, the FBI raided stores in Minneapolis and found Minnesota-banned skin-lightening products and took action against owners, said Adawe, a public health graduate student at the University of Minnesota.

Adawe’s investigation prompted the study, thanks in part to her professor and mentor, Charles Oberg, who co-authored the research paper.

Public awareness efforts

Adawe’s is working to tell others about the dangers of skin-lightening practices by speaking out at community and educational forums, appearing on radio and television shows, and meeting with leaders and activists of the Somali community.

Adawe also engages in conversations with 244 members of the Somali community on a Facebook page she created named “Skin-lightening practices & chemical exposure among Somali women.”

Members share articles, videos and studies about the risks of skin-lightening practices, and they discuss ways they can help limit such practices.

On June 11, Adawe posted on the page: “To those of you who are scholars or know the Islamic religion well, can you please educate us about what Islam says about skin-lightening practices?”

Awil Egal, a group member, replied: “Islam has forbidden men or women to change the creation of Allah: Skin color, hair color and the likes. ”

Egal added: “Using cosmetics, creams and other things that are made from chemicals or impure substances and which may have dangerous side effects is definitely haram [forbidden]. It is also another form of deceiving that can create mistrust between people.”

Other members wrote simple lines of encouragement. Khadijo Abdi, for instance, posted: “Beautiful people, leave your skin as God intended!”

Adawe is optimistic the Somali community will understand the risks of the chemicals. And with social media, she said, she’s even more hopeful that the people will be informed faster.

“Everybody is on Facebook and Twitter these days,” Adawe said. “Social media is a great tool to use for spreading awareness on issues like this one.”

Adawe said there are significant numbers of Somali women satisfied with their natural skin tone and don’t consider using the skin products.

“It all depends on their confidence and level of education,” Adawe said. “Uneducated people tend to use these products more often.”

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Minnesota

A Minnesota health advocate’s crusade brings harmful skin lightening out of the dark

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STAT NEWS — MINNEAPOLIS — Karmel Square is a hub of the Somali community here, a colorful, cheerfully noisy hodgepodge of vendors and restaurants unofficially known as the Somali Mall. Amira Adawe stops by often to buy tea and chat in Somali with friends and relatives wearing hijabs and flowing, floor-length skirts. They greet her with smiles and hugs, and she calls them “auntie.”

Her visits are more than social, however. The public health advocate scans market shelves for skin lightening creams that may contain harmful toxins — tubes and jars sold under names such as Fair & Lovely, Prime White, and Miss Beauty 7 Days White.

Some women use the creams in hopes of erasing dark spots, but many rub them over their entire bodies multiple times a day in hopes of whitening their brown skin. The practice pervades many cultures in Africa, Asia, the Middle East — and many immigrant communities in the U.S. — and Adawe has made it her mission to end it.

She began her crusade as a graduate student, after she discovered that creams sold in many Twin Cities ethnic markets contained levels of mercury thousands of times higher than the amounts considered safe by the U.S. government. But her concerns go beyond the physical harm to women. She worries as much about the damage to their self-esteem.

newsnisideIn Somali and other cultures, the lighter-skinned daughter is often seen as more beautiful, Adawe explained recently; in fact, the Somali term for light-skinned — cadey — is considered a compliment. “It’s used as a term of endearment,” she said, “but I think it’s so wrong to say it.”

Public health agencies in several major cities have launched their own investigations of tainted skin creams, occasionally getting advice from Adawe along the way. And now Adawe has created The Beautywell Project, to combat the stigma faced by women with darker skin and take on the industry that promises them beauty in a jar.

By day, Adawe is now a manager for the Children’s Cabinet of Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton. In her “spare time,” she hosts a weekly radio show in Somali that reaches 80,000 people worldwide. She holds educational outreach sessions in Minneapolis and Kenya, talks with imams, and presents at national and international conferences. Sooner or later, most anyone connected with the skin-lightening issue seeks out Adawe. She fields personal pleas for help from Somali men in Minneapolis worried about their pregnant wives rubbing cream on their skin, as well as calls for help from Kenya, Canada, and Australia.

“We can’t address this issue without discussing beauty, what it means and ways to redefine beauty, as well as discussing and educating individuals about wellness,” she said in an interview.

She admits her goal is ambitious. The stigma runs deep, and skin-lightening creams are a multibillion-dollar business overseas, despite bans and public campaigns against the products in many African countries. In the U.S., creams are often smuggled in and sold in small, ethnic markets like at Karmel Square or purchased on the internet. They have been found in Somali, Hmong, Mexican, Dominican, and West Indies communities from California to Minnesota to New York. Users, and even sellers of the creams, are often unaware that they are harmful or illegal.

Somali women are reluctant to speak openly about skin lightening, and Adawe faced resistance when she began her research seven years ago. Her persistence impressed Jim Koppel, who was deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Health at the time.

“It’s a very tight-knit community, and this put her in a tough place,” he said. “It could have had a negative impact on the businesses [that sell the creams], both financially and potentially for legal problems, and was of great concern to her personal reputation. And she went ahead and did it and continues to speak out.”

“I had to be brave enough, and, fortunately, the community saw it as an issue” and supported her, Adawe said. “That means a lot to me.”

A topic few wanted to talk about

One recent afternoon, Adawe was 35 minutes into her radio show, broadcast from the studio of KALY, 101.7 FM, a Somali-American station tucked into a corner of the International Bazaar in Minneapolis. She had been talking nonstop about skin lightening, peppering her fluent Somali with a few English words — endocrine system, mercury, hydroquinone, prescription.

Then she turned to the phones, murmuring in understanding as she listened to a female caller from a Minneapolis suburb. Do you have any more feedback, Adawe asked in Somali.

“Women who practice skin lightening and who have experienced skin damage or illness should come to the radio and discuss their experience without disclosing their names,” the caller said in Somali.

Adawe nodded. The topic of skin lightening is a delicate one, both overseas and in immigrant communities in the U.S. While the stigma associated with dark skin is deep, admitting to using skin-lightening creams is also taboo, thwarting efforts to track the prevalence of the practice. As adept as Adawe is at navigating the delicate social norms and customs of the Somali-American community she’s part of, when she began her research in 2011, she could find only seven women who would talk about their use of skin creams.

It was in those interviews that women told her that they apply the creams to their entire bodies three times a day, sometimes while pregnant or breastfeeding. Most mixed several creams together and stored them in the refrigerator.

Adawe had been suspicious of the creams since her childhood. Growing up in Mogadishu and Minneapolis in a health-minded family (her mother was the head of the maternal and child health bureau in Somalia), she watched with concern when friends’ and relatives’ skin reddened or grew discolored from using skin lighteners. Adawe is grateful for the message she received growing up with the darkest skin of three daughters: “I’m so fortunate I came from a family who embraced me for who I am,” she said.

When Adawe became a county public health educator and a graduate student at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, she was finally in a position to act on her concerns. She purchased 27 samples of creams to test for the toxins she suspected were present.

The tests confirmed Adawe’s fears, revealing that 11 of the products contained mercury, a known neurotoxin. Mercury has been banned in skin-lightening products by the Food and Drug Administration since 1973; the legal limit is 1 part per million. Adawe still remembers the shock she and the pollution control agency specialists who did the testing felt when they saw the results reaching 33,000 parts per million.

FDA spokeswoman Lauren Sucher said mercury is on a short list of prohibited ingredients in cosmetics. “The FDA has been aware of mercury as a potential allergen, skin irritant and neurotoxin for decades,” she said in an email.

Poisonous to the nervous, digestive, and immune systems, it is often found in unlabeled or mislabeled creams; sometimes it’s listed as “mercurous chloride,” “calomel,” “mercuric,” or “mercurio.” Just touching a washcloth or a mother’s cheek that has been rubbed with the products could be harmful to a baby, the FDA notes, interfering with brain and nervous system development.

Yet the agency was able to inspect only 0.3 percent of 3 million cosmetics shipments last year, and it tested just 364 products even though “adverse findings” are discovered in 15 percent to 20 percent of the products tested, the FDA said last June in a letter to New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone Jr.

Even skin-lightening products sold legally in the U.S. often contain ingredients other countries recognize as potential health hazards, Adawe said. Hydroquinone, a potential carcinogen that is banned in Europe, Japan, and elsewhere, is often found in the creams, as are steroids, which can cause acne, thinning of the skin, and hypertension.

Adawe’s testing in 2011 triggered immediate action: The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency cracked down on suppliers (in a raid on one popular store, inspectors found about 20 boxes full of products that contained mercury); the FDA investigated; and the Minnesota Department of Health warned of the danger.

Elsewhere in the country, similar scenarios were playing out. Alerted through data from local and national surveys, health departments embargoed products, conducted home visits, and notified manufacturers and health agencies in other countries. In New York, for example, after finding eight skin creams with mercury after inspecting products from 22 stores, city health workers now visit stores incognito to identify products of concern, said Wendy McKelvey, executive director of environmental health surveillance and policy.

Once notified of the dangers, there’s “pretty good compliance,” McKelvey said. “They’re not wanting to sell hazardous products.”

Adawe is often consulted because she understands and is trusted by the affected community.

“I think it’s extraordinary what she’s doing,” said Lori Copan, a research scientist for the California Department of Public Health. “A person from the community is a much better spokesperson than someone working in a public health department in terms of motivating and speaking the language and being one of them. It would be fantastic for all of us in public health if we had a community leader like Amira.”

The value of that cross-cultural competence is often in the details. Inspired by Adawe’s study, an ongoing biomonitoring project in Minnesota looking at chemical exposure in pregnant women and babies now tracks urinary mercury. With Adawe’s input, the program has fine-tuned details such as how to phrase questions in surveys about use of creams.

“If you ask directly, ‘Do you use it?’ they will never, ever answer,” Adawe said. To get at the truth, she said, it’s better to start by asking what kind of moisturizer they use.

Initial results of the yet-to-be-published study show that more than 30 percent of pregnant Asian women who spoke Hmong in their interviews had high levels of mercury and received special follow-up to help them reduce their exposures. “The higher levels were likely from using skin-lightening creams and eating certain kinds of fish higher in mercury,” said Jessica Nelson, an epidemiologist and program manager at the Minnesota Department of Health, where Adawe works as a legislative liaison. (The Somali portion of the study isn’t finished yet.)

Adawe isn’t resting: She’s happy that skin lightening has been established as a public health issue. Still, Adawe said there’s plenty more to be done. Next up, she said, is trying to reframe what it means to be beautiful. She’s developing a curriculum for schoolgirls and outreach sessions focused on men, teenagers, and new teachers, which will revolve around the question: How do we change the narrative of what is beauty?

“My dream is that every woman stops using skin-lightening creams and trying to change their color,” she said, “and that they are happy for who they are.”

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