On July 1, South Minneapolis streets were draped in blue and white to help celebrate the Somali Independence festival, marking 63 years since the country’s rebirth.
According to organizers, the festival is the largest celebration of Somalia’s independence outside of Somalia with an estimated 40,000 attendees, including dozens of vendors, live music, family-friendly activities, and more. The festival took place along a three-block stretch across West Lake Street.
This year, the event was organized by Ka Joog along with other groups, and sponsored by Amazon, Xcel Energy, the City of Minneapolis, Goodyear, and other organizations.
“It gives the kids a chance to learn about their background, their flag, their culture, their food,” said Hafsa Khalif, who along with his wife Musa Mlshala brought their young family to the festival. “It’s just amazing how we could all just come together,”
Abdi Ahmed and Maryan Omar traveled from Arizona to visit family for Eid, the Muslim holiday marking the end of Hajj, but extended their trip to attend the festival. Despite there being a sizeable Somali community back home in Arizona, the couple wanted to bring their kids to a large gathering where they could see themselves represented publicly and with passion.
“It’s nice to show the kids that we’re all one and that we’re a big community,” said Omar. She shared that the event gave her a chance to show her children that there’s a depth to their culture that can be experienced through the language, people, and food.
“It’s a change of pace for me. It’s nice to see all these Somali people in one place and even getting the street blocked off—all of this is crazy to me, but we’re enjoying it,” Ahmed said.
Several organizations had booths at the festival, along with many state and local government agencies that had Somali employees who served as representatives.
Asad Ahmed, a deputy sheriff with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, pointed to the many Somali state and local employees as an example of how far the community had come since arriving to Minnesota in the early 1990s. Many of these organizations, including Ahmed’s, attended the festival in hopes of recruiting more people to the workforce.
“This is integration,” he said. “Even though this is Somali Independence Day, the people here are Somali American. Every agency in the state is here so if you want to be part of it if you want to get to know them and get information, everything you need is right here.”
Amani Radman, CEO and founder of the East African Business Association (EABA), attended the festival to connect with entrepreneurs and invite them to become a part of her association. Radman said that Minnesota has been a great state that has fostered the right environment for entrepreneurship to thrive within the community.
“I think Minnesota is open and is very open to giving other cultures the opportunity and recognize that where I think other states are still not ready to embrace other cultures,” she said.
“Looking within the community, there is a collective effort when it comes to sharing information,” said Misky Abshir, a technologist and founder of Noma Capital who sat at the EABA booth. “There is a force when it comes to Somali community with sharing resources, sharing information. When they say representation matters, it really matters here. Because we see other Somalians taking risks—it’s like, if that brother or that sister could do it, so can I.”