Ex U of M student regent reflects on the good, the bad and the ugly
Dr. Abdul Majid Omari has achieved more than most 33-year-olds in a relatively short amount of time: three back-to-back degrees from the University of Minnesota, Alpha Phi Alpha presidency, a nine-year bartending stint, board membership for local chapters of prominent national organizations, chairing the presidential search committee at his alma mater as a regent, and founding his own business.
And yet, though Omari had received recognition and accolades for all he has brought to the table in the Twin Cities, the last known headlines to feature the civic and public servant a few months ago suggested that Omari’s legacy had ended on a sour note. After almost eight years of devotion to the U of M community (first as a student regent, later as an elected member of the board of regents), the Regent Candidate Advisory Committee did not recommend Omari as one of the 16 finalists for four at-large seats.
Mila Koumpilova of the Star Tribune called it a “snub,” former Republican legislator Laura Brod deemed it a “swing and a miss” in an op-ed for the MinnPost, and Josh Verges wrote in an article for the Pioneer Press that Omari had “just missed the cut.” No matter how they put it—or the reasons and speculations cited to bolster their claims—the end result was the same.
That was in January 2019, and Omari finished his term soon thereafter in May. During his last weeks as a regent, Omari was a strong vocal advocate for changing the names of four campus buildings that were connected to alleged racist and anti-Semite leaders.
We had the chance to catch up with Omari and find out what he’s been up to since his term as a U of M regent ended. “I’m spending my time loving all over my nieces and nephews, traveling as much as possible, keeping good people close, and building my business more from a revenue, impact, and geographic standpoint,” Omari said.
Growing up as the youngest mixed-race son of Kenyan and Jordanian immigrants, throughout his childhood in South Minneapolis and his near-decade as a post-secondary student, Omari said he has both explicitly and implicitly felt and witnessed the detrimental outcomes of bias.
When he progressed onto his Ph.D. program, Omari was appointed by the Graduate Student Association to become a student representative to the board of regents from 2010 to 2012. According to Omari, this role entailed sitting in on all of the committee meetings, preparing reports and providing input, and doing most things regular regents do (except vote).
That position led to developing a fruitful working relationship with former regent Maureen Ramirez (2007-2013), who not only convinced Omari to apply for a seat on the board but also guided him through both the 2013 and2019 elections.
Omari reflects upon his six-year-term and subsequent election loss with as much neutrality as he can muster. Though he considered it to ultimately be a “great experience for someone who’s 27 at the time of the election,” he also dealt with many downs.
“I had my moments of frustration, sadness and hopelessness. I never felt helpless, but I certainly felt hopeless.”
Omari feels that, overall, he made a positive impact while he was a regent, especially during the last two years of his term. He defines this period by the “good work and good momentum in policy shifts” he and his allies achieved, the most significant being spearheading the presidential search.
At the same time, however, Omari faced pushback and what he alleges was outright anger from colleagues who didn’t think Omari was up to the task of finding a president, let alone being on the board for a second term.
“I was so upset, but in hindsight, their anger was quite funny. One of these colleagues said that I didn’t have enough education. So, I guess I needed to get a law degree and an M.D. to be good enough.”
These pros and cons of his term as a regent have proven invaluable to Omari. He’s taken the lessons he’s learned about people, organizations and leadership and implemented them into his consulting practice.
AMO Enterprise, founded by Omari in October 2013, primarily focuses on culturally intelligent leadership development for private industries and public sectors, usually done in the form of seminars or keynote speeches. Some of AMO Enterprise’s big-name clients include General Mills, Best Buy, Wayzata Public Schools, Target and United Health Group.
Subjects covered by these interactive trainings include how to function in a group or a team, how to use cultural intelligence to foster relationships, and how to give a resounding yes to the question would you follow you?
That’s only a chunk of what his work as a consultant consists of, Omari explained. AMO Enterprise’s other major draw is its Eddie Phillips Scholarship for African American Men, which Omari helped to develop in 2015. Another scholarship Omari is proud to have a hands-on role in is funded by the Ciresi Walburn Foundation for Children, a two-year financial planning and leadership program that targets rising juniors in college who are of color and are experiencing economic hardship.
Omari says he’ll eventually be starting a team that would resemble a speaker’s bureau to expand his enterprise in terms of manpower and audience reach. The still-in-progress idea is that certified speakers with diverse interests will be present at engagements, taking the reign on workshops and courses, and even taking part in developing some of their own.
His advice for Black youth curious about a job in leadership and/or education? “I would say be people learners and really figure out what makes people tick, what gets them excited, and really try to dig deep into why people are behaving the way they behave, and then use that information to lead productively.”