Columbus celebrates Somalia Independence Day

Dozens of Somali Americans, waving blue and white Somali flags, gathered on the steps of Columbus City Hall Thursday night to celebrate their Independence Day and “Soomaalinimo,” or “the essence of ‘to be Somali’.

The holiday, marking freedom from British and Italian colonial rule, was Friday, just three days before American Independence Day.

Thursday’s ceremony was hosted by the city council and included keynote speaker Abdirizak Mohamed, a Kenyan-born Somali soccer player for Columbus Crew 2.

The Somali Festival, a larger cultural event that is free and open to the public, will be held at Innis Park in northeast Columbus on Saturday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Greater Columbus is estimated to be home to between 45,000 and 50,000 Somalis, according to the Somali Community Association of Ohio.

“For me, Somalia’s Independence Day symbolizes hope,” said Anisa Liban, a Columbus-born Somali American who is legislative assistant to council member Shayla Favor, whose office hosted the event. at the town hall. “My mother came to this country wanting to achieve something that seemed unattainable, and to see her child be able to pursue her dreams – that’s what this celebration reminds me of.”

In the opening speech, Mohamed, the footballer, spoke about the resilience and innovation of the Somali community and said playing for his hometown team was a dream come true.

“We need to encourage our young people not just to dream big, but to fight for a brighter future for generations to come,” said Mohamed, who co-founded a non-profit Academy, 18×26, to train and mentor aspiring athletes. Somalis.

Hafsa Ahmed, a Columbus-based poet, reads an excerpt from her composition

Hafsa Ahmed, a Columbus-based poet, read an excerpt from her composition “The Beauty of Being Somali”, noting the beauty of the Somali language.

“Afka hooyo (mother tongue) will put your heart at ease / I’ll never forget my beautiful DNA / The beauty of being Somali.”

Council President Shannon Hardin, Council Member Elizabeth Brown and State Representative Dontavius ​​Jarrells spoke at the event.

“Somali Americans come to better their lives and the lives of their families, and we are proud that they have chosen to live in Columbus,” Hardin said.

Jarrells presented the Rising Youth Rajo Award to Yusuf Warsame, who said he began organizing against addiction, mental health and gun violence in Columbus after his father died in 2020, when he was only 18 years old.

Sheikh Mukhtar Haji Ibrahim, a religious leader from Masjid Ibn Taymiyah and the Islamic Center, delivered a prayer during the ceremony.

Somalia gained independence 52 years ago. British Somaliland to the northwest gained independence on June 26, 1960, and united with the Italian Trust Territory of Somaliland to the south and east on July 1.

In the 1990s, a civil war broke out. Since then, continued political instability has caused hundreds of thousands of refugees to leave the country. Many now live in Kenya, Yemen and Ethiopia. In North America, the largest population of Somalis is in Toronto, followed by Minneapolis and Greater Columbus.

The United States has had a military presence in Somalia for much of the past two decades. In May, the Biden administration announced it would resume a “small, persistent presence in Somalia” after President Donald Trump withdrew his military advisers in December 2020.

“Even though we have conflicts back home, we want to emphasize Somali unity here,” said Leebaan “Alaska” Osman, 38, one of the organizers of Saturday’s event in Innis Park.

Osman, who spent much of his childhood as a refugee in Kenya, said he never missed an Independence Day celebration.

The festival at Innis Park will include music, dancing and food stalls. Nimcaan Hilaac, a famous Somali singer, will be the headliner.

Osman, who spoke to The Dispatch by phone, encouraged members of the public to come to Innis Park on Saturday to meet their Somali neighbors, listen to Somali music and try Somali food – including goat meat and milk from camel.

“It’s not just for Somalis,” he said. “I want everyone in Columbus to come party with us and see what we do.”

Peter Gill is a member of the Report for America corps and covers immigration issues for the Dispatch. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps him keep writing stories like this. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation at https://bit.ly/3fNsGaZ

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