From refugee to college grad, he is determined to help San Diego’s Somali community
BY BEATRICE ZAMORA
Mohamed Musse graduated from SDSU this year with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. This is an amazing accomplishment for one whose life has been filled with uncertainty.
He was born in the Kakuma Refugee camp, established in 1992, in northwestern Kenya. He is Somali, and his family is from East Africa. He came to the U.S. when he was just 2 years old in 2000, accompanied by his mother, brother, and sister. Today, he lives in “East Diego,” better known as City Heights.
Somalia has experienced three decades of political instability and civil war. Starvation, flooding and drought led to a huge refugee migration. According to the Borgen Project, more than 2 million Somalis live outside of their country. Refugee camps are considered temporary residences, yet many live there for decades in cramped quarters and often under tents. It is estimated that the U.S. population of Somali refugees in 2015 had reached about 150,000.
City Heights is home to one of the largest Somali communities in the United States, an estimated 10,000 people. Musse is proud of his culture and community. “I want … San Diego to know that City Heights, my community, is not what they think it is. I want them to come and see it and feel it. I want them to know that everything we are trying to do is tough, and if they would put the funding in the community that would be lovely. I want them to know we are not dangerous, we are not crazy, we do not do drugs and there is still hope in our community.”
He is a role model for youth and uplifts the spirits of many. He attended Crawford High School, where he says more than 50 languages are spoken. He sees his community as one that is striving to attain educational and economic success but needs support and resources to do so. “You would think Crawford High School would have an ESL program to help us, but they didn’t. We had to help ourselves.”
Musse attended San Diego City College and earned an associate degree in communications and transferred to SDSU. He plans to earn a master’s in counselor education, and later in life, he would like to become San Diego mayor. These are lofty goals, but one that his heart and soul are set on accomplishing.
He said he believes he has been gifted with the spirit of compassion and love for others. He has learned many lessons along the way by volunteering in the community and sees himself as a public figure, one that the community can rely upon. “I am a mentor, a big brother, and a family member who is trusted, and a role model to younger children from all cultures that live in my community.”
Mohamed works at the YMCA coaching youth basketball and is a mentor at the United Women’s of East Africa organization. “U of East Africa started off as a group of ladies who built a program. There wasn’t anyone helping us in the community; we felt overlooked. Sahra Abdi took her time to make this program for kids and everyone, bringing resources, food, money assistance, health services, and tutorial help. They stepped up to help the community,” Musse said.
Adjusting to a new world is tough and requires courage. “I think we should maintain our cultures but be united as a nation,” he said. “The Somali community is family. We all look at each other as brothers and sisters.”
Musse’s motivation stems from growing up in a low-income family and not always having guidance. There was no one telling him to stay in school or to earn a degree. “Honestly, it was super hard. I did not want to go to college or do the things I am doing now, but my mom came to America for a better life. I want my mom to be able to say, my son came here, and he did have a better life. My mom is my biggest inspiration. Without her I wouldn’t be able to stay on track.”
He said he feels his community is often misunderstood and mislabeled. “We are always called violent, and we are seen as just a statistic, so I need to step-up. … I want to erase the negative thoughts and bring positivity into the community. Whether people like me or not, I am doing what I can to uplift my community.”
Sahra Abdi, of United Women of East Africa, says their organization started helping women transition. “But then there were the boys, so we helped the boys. Mohamed works with the youth, especially the males, to encourage them to move forward. Mohamed helps to inspire the youth. He is a strong positive role model.
“Mohamed makes us proud. He is amazing, and he will do great things for the community.”
About this series
Beatrice Zamora is a local author, community activist and retired community college educator who is a member of the U-T’s Community Advisory Board. She is also a lead woman dancer in the Danza Azteca Chichimeca tradition, indigenous dance of Mexico.
Someone San Diego Should Know is a weekly column written by members of the U-T’s Community Advisory Board about local people who are interesting and noteworthy because of their experiences, achievements, creativity or credentials.
Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune