By Mohammed Ademo
Saint Paul, MN ― On Friday Jun. 15, the American Oromo Community of Minnesota (AOCM) recognized 15 Oromo youth, ages 14-17, who completed a yearlong leadership program, in a well-attended ceremony held at the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation in Saint Paul.
The program, which consisted of a yearlong tutelage in leadership development, cultural exploration, academic support and community service activities, was part of AOCM’s partnership with Wilder Youth Leadership Initiative, Police Athletics League of Saint Paul, and Safe Place Tutoring at Trinity Lutheran Congregation.
Throughout the year, AOCM staff, interns and volunteers provided the youth with cultural awareness education, mentorship, homework help and college access activities at the Trinity Congregation in Minneapolis’ Cedar Riverside area, said Gada Roba, AOCM board chair. “Our goal is to help build the next generation of Oromo community leaders.”
In addition to its youth programs, AOCM also offers monthly engagement workshops for families focusing on school involvement, graduation and information about college access, said Roba.
The graduates – who spent a year attending leadership retreat camps, cultural group meets, tutoring and mentoring sessions, and participating in community action groups as part of Wilder Foundation’s multicultural and interfaith youth initiative – read poems and offered a glimpse of what they have learned and experienced from the program.
Some of the students, who’ve shown great leadership and promise throughout the year, were selected by Wilder Foundation to serve as mentors for its next year’s class.
“I’m more than excited,” said Nuradin Jamal, one of the five young Oromos chosen as Emerging Leaders. “It’s a great honor to be asked to become a youth mentor…I didn’t know I could be a leader.”
Jamal, 17, who will be a senior at Central High School next year said the program had changed his life. “It has given me a second family, shown me my potential, and helped me academically because my grades are a lot better now than when I joined the program.”
Other members of the group, simply known as Oromo Young Generation on social networks, were equally upbeat about their experiences. Omar Hassan, 16, has only been in the U.S. for three years. But he said he had found mentors and role models through the program.
“When you have a mentor who speaks the same language as you and is also from the same country, it motivates you to be like them in the future,” Hassan said in an email to OPride.
An estimated 20,000 Oromo people reside in Minnesota. Founded in 2001, the AOCM helps newly arriving Oromo immigrants in the Twin Cities area in their quest to adapt to a new home, learn a new language and gain economic self-sufficiency. AOCM is one of the only two Oromo community organizations serving Oromo immigrants in the area.
Currently, AOCM operates out of the Neighborhood House office in East Saint Paul, where it has been pursuing different partnerships with the non-profit. The group is now looking to relocate to St. Paul’s Midway and Frogtown neighborhoods to better assist the growing Oromo community, according to Roba.
“The move is also reflective of strategic partnerships that have developed over the past year with Wilder, Big Brothers Big Sisters and St. Paul Police,” said Roba.