Somali-American Ka Joog Organization Honored for Community Leadership
|FBI Minneapolis October 25, 2012|
Yesterday, the Minneapolis Division of the FBI recognized a group of young Somali-Americans that have contributed significantly to the growth and development of youth who reside in the Riverside area.
Once a year, the FBI Director recognizes an individual or organization that goes beyond the traditional sense of community service and has a profound effect on their community. This year, the Minneapolis Division of the FBI proudly nominated the Ka Joog organization as its choice for the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award (DCLA).
The Ka Joog organization is a group of nine Somali-Americans who provide hope, direction, and vision for Somali youth in one of the largest Somali communities in America. The word Ka Joog means “stay away” or “stay out”—a message to encourage kids to stay away from drugs, violence, radicalization, and other negative influences in the community. In a community where resources are slim or non-existent, coupled with language and culture differences, Somali youth find it difficult each day to carve out a positive setting to truly appreciate what America has to offer. The members of Ka Joog have worked for the past five years to be mentors and coaches and to provide positive leadership to Somali youth in Minnesota who often seem displaced and disconnected. Their program started with no funding, only a dream. Today, Ka Joog is recognized in the Twin Cities as an organization that works with youth to promote art as way to express the culture of not only Somalia but also America. Under the leadership of Mohamed Farah, he and his board of eight young college students have been able to provide a program that involves art as a means to engage youth and create an attitude that education is the way to fight the stigma of being different.
The Ka Joog organization was formed in 2007 in response to negative media attention surrounding the Somali community which included gang shootings, drug trafficking, and other violent crime. The members of Ka Joog wanted to create an environment where Somali youth could express themselves and ask questions about these difficult situations. Today, Ka Joog provides a strong support network for Somali youth in Minnesota and serves nearly 2,500 young people in the Metro area annually. Ka Joog encourages Somali youth and young adults to “ka joog” (stay away) from the negative influences in their community and become active members in their neighborhood. The Ka Joog program helps Somali teens make the right choices and provides a positive outlet that uses art, music, poetry, paintings, and theater work to express themselves.
The Ka Joog Organization is built on the philosophy that today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders. For this reason, the Ka Joog organization has made it their goal to help motivate the youth in Minneapolis and focus their attention to attain a higher education with the belief that education is the backbone of success. Additionally, Ka Joog has taken on a challenge to impact the first generation of Somalis born in America and address those issues of youth growing up in a foreign country and how to be a contributing member of society. Faced with the challenges of negative perceptions, Ka Joog aims to provide youth with a platform for self-expression through the power of art. Additionally, Ka Joog is careful to design and implement events that will educate, inspire, and empower youth to break barriers and open lines of communication across cultural barriers that promote understanding and unity.
Ka Joog understands that working alone cannot solve community problems. For this reason, they have reached out to community leaders such as the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, local law enforcement, and government officials to build relationships. One of the benchmarks of their success has been to host roundtable discussions with representatives of all members of the community. The meetings were held in the Somali community, where residents felt safe and comfortable enough to voice their concerns. One of the most recent conferences hosted by Ka Joog was the Radical Minds Youth Conference. This was the first time that local, state, and federal officials came together and openly exchanged concerns and ideas that would have an impact on the families and members of the Somali community. The event was so successful that it has become a regularly scheduled event; outsiders from Washington and other locations around the country consider this forum to be the model for resolving issues. The topics at these conferences deal with tough issues such as gang violence, economic structure, education, health and medical disparities, and the prevention of terrorism. According to some of the Somali youth who attended, being able to observe citizens and local government officials working together to solve problems was one of the most memorable experiences of their life.
This year, the Ka Joog organization provided another unique opportunity for Somali youth. Ka Joog took 40 disadvantaged youth from the Twin Cities area into the woods for a weekend of history. The theme for the camp was Making History, and that’s exactly what the youth experienced. Most of the Somali youth had never been outside the city, never been to a lake, never camped, and had no idea how to survive out in the woods. The kids learned to swim, work on projects together, share ideas, and build relationships that would last a lifetime. According to the Ka Joog director, “These kids took a leap of faith and volunteered to attend a summer camp that would change their lives.” The vision of Ka Joog states: “Our purpose is to create a safe environment for the youth in our community. We want to motivate our youth to take part in the civil aspects of our community and to pursue a higher education.” The camp allowed these young men to forget about the troubles in their lives for a brief weekend and focus on a better tomorrow.
In March 2013, Mr. Mohamed Ali Farah (director of Ka Joog) will participate in a ceremony hosted by the Director of the FBI in Washington D.C. and be presented with a glass trophy for the group’s work.