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Columbus Could Learn From Minneapolis' Somali Community, Researcher Says

Jibril Ali Aw Mohamed
Columbus' Somali high school graduates gathered for a ceremony last year at the Hilton in Easton.

Columbus has the second-largest concentration of Somali immigrants in the U.S., following Minneapolis, which has almost double the population. Stefanie Chambers, who compared the two in her book "Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus," says Columbus still lags behind in incorporating Somali-Americans into the community.

Chambers says Minneapolis-St. Paul have more Somali-Americans in their police departments and in elected office.

“It’s much better, in many ways, in the Twin Cities than it is in Columbus, Ohio," Chambers says. "There are structures and institutions in the Twin Cities that have made it much easier for Somalis to reach somewhat of their potential.”

She says that while Columbus has a ways to go in incorporating Somali-Americans, there are a few smaller changes it could start to implement. Those initiatives include recruiting Somali-Americans to be a part of the police force, having major political parties appeal to Somali voters, and pushing unions to offer leadership opportunities for immigrants.

"We could also see a change in the ward structure at the city council level in Columbus, to make things a little easier for Somalis," Chambers says. "So kind of getting rid of some of the barriers that seem to limit political incorporation for Somalis in Columbus. And these barriers are just not present in the Twin Cities, and they've made an effort to get rid of barriers."

Chambers, who received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University in 1999, gave the keynote speech for the Somali Civic Participation Forum at the Statehouse on Monday evening. 

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.