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Somali event aims to promote respect, understanding

Haji Yussuf talks Wednesday about the planning process for the Somali Independence Day celebration on Sunday. (Photo: Dave Schwarz, [email protected])

By Stephanie Dickrell
Friday, June 12, 2015

Mutual understanding and respect: Those are the goals of the organizers of the Somali Independence Day celebration on Sunday at Lake George.

The celebration marks the formation of Somalia but also the entrance of Somalis into American culture, said organizer Haji Yussuf.

Of course, it is a festival and it's also supposed to be fun for the whole family — all families, Somali and non-Somali.

Yussuf is in the business of bringing people together. His multilingual media broadcasting and television company, Orange Oak Advertising, produces videos in multiple languages for all kinds of clients, such as school districts, health organizations and employers.

His hope is that the festival, in its second year, can do the same for the wider community.

"What a better way than to have a festival, so we can educate people about new groups that are living in St. Cloud," he said. "And also, it's a very important day for Somalis."

In 1960, Britain withdrew from Somali territory, which allowed people to form a new nation in east Africa. There, a civil war that began in 1991 and has continued for almost 25 years has displaced more than 1 million people.

The actual date of independence is July 1. But the monthlong Muslim time of Ramadan, with daylight fasting, begins at sundown June 17. There will be food at the festival from Somali Cafe, Paneer Flatbread, Campus Kabob and more.

Creating a celebration

Ka Joog, a group for Somali youth based in the Twin Cities, has organized a Somali Independence Day event in Minneapolis for the past two years that has been very successful, drawing people from out of state.

So last year, Yussuf, as part of that group, decided to try it in St. Cloud.

"It was something that was lacking in our community," he said. They considered it a success with a turnout of 300-400 people, he said.

They're hoping this year's event can reach an even wider audience.

"We wanted to teach people about the Somali culture and the history and where they come from, and who we are, and how we are contributing to the economy of the U.S.," Yussuf said.

The celebration takes place near Technical High School, where tensions between Somali and non-Somali students flared earlier this year. In March, Somali students protested their treatment.

"It's a learning opportunity for everybody. For us, it teaches us, the American-Somali youth, about the freedom that we have that we can do something like this, (and) teach that we're part of a society ... and that they can have as many rights as anybody else in this country," he said.

"For the other communities, it's somewhere they can come if they have questions about their neighbors. They can come and ask," Yussuf said. "It's an open space for everybody. It's a safe place for everybody. ... It's Lake George. It's beautiful.

"There is no way we could celebrate something like this other than in America," he said. "This is a country that has given us so much. And we are part of this new history, a history of east Africans, and the Somalis, in St. Cloud, that continues, is evolving. It's being written, it's being talked about. And we wanted to share Somali independence with American citizens — our fellow citizens. And tell them what Somalia as a nation was all about, and also ... moving forward, how we can make sure that there is mutual respect and mutual understanding."

He wants to build on the U.S.'s history of being a nation of immigrants.

"They're not here to take anybody's jobs," he said. "They just want to get along, feed their families, take kids to good schools, enjoy the freedom we always enjoy as Americans."

More about event

The St. Cloud Somali Youth Association has been a big part of the Sunday event, Yussuf said. KVSC-FM is helping with the audio details.

"It's a day to celebrate," said Farhan Abdi, president of the youth association.

There will be Somali entertainers and poets, a DJ and speakers in Somali and English. The crowd will hear stories and folklore and history about the Somali people.

Law enforcement will be on hand to connect with the community.

There will be Somali dance, music using a special guitar called an oud and Somali music called danto.

"It's played everywhere. It's very groovy, upbeat kind of music that is catchy," Yussuf said. "So if you listen to one or two of them it's always going to be in your head."

(For an example, watch www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfjNsh9HDXE.)

Companies who employ Somalis are invited as well as St. Cloud State University, Tri-County Action Program and other organizations. Somali businesses will be represented.

"And we have to get more people getting involved from our community who are neighbors, so that we can build a community," Yussuf said.

"It's not 'I,' it's 'we.' We are one community and that's the message we want to pass on to everybody else."

If you go ...

What: Somali Independence Day celebration.

When: 1-9 p.m., Sunday.

Where: Lake George.

Details: Free.


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