Black History Month
History. Tradition. Community.
February is Black History Month.
Since 1926, and the creation of Negro History Week by Carter G. Woodson, the accomplishments of persons of African descent have been recognized each February. The Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights is proud to present Future History Makers, a profile series featuring emerging leaders from the Twin Cities African American community who share our ideals of advancing civil rights and removing barriers to equity. We also recognize the kinship of their work to those who are legacy trailblazers. Thus, in a brief question and answer profile, we uniquely celebrate both the past, present, and future.
Future History Maker
Future History Maker Ilhan Omar is the newly elected Representative for District 60B in the Minnesota House of Representatives. She is the first Somali-American, Muslim woman to hold office at this level.
At 14 years old, and acting as her grandfather’s interpreter so he could participate in their local DFL caucus, Omar experienced firsthand one of many barriers that limit full political participation in the democratic process. Omar says, “That experience set the tone for a career in advocacy. It was an eye opening experience to have the person I relied on as a guide, in turn be forced to rely on me to help navigate such an important process. Throughout the years I’ve worked hard to make our democratic system more accessible to people like him.”
Omar began her professional career working as a community health educator at the University of Minnesota. She went on to work at Best Buy and the Minnesota Department of Education. Before being elected to the Minnesota legislature, Omar most recently served as the Senior Policy Aide for Minneapolis City Council Member Andrew Johnson.
During a time of political and social upheaval Omar sets an example of bravery for future generations. Omar says, “As a young girl I was encouraged by my parents to break down barriers. My father encouraged me in everything I did, reminding me that neither my gender nor race should dictate my success.”
Recently Omar has protested executive orders limiting the ability of immigrants and Americans with dual citizenship from freely entering and exiting the United States. Omar, a proud Muslim American, zealously leads the fight against islamophobia and works tirelessly to promote the principles of unity and diversity. Aligned with her commitment to unity and justice, Omar’s legislative agenda is focused on advancing issues such as: raising the minimum wage to fifteen dollars ($15) per hour; closing the opportunity gap; fighting for environmental justice; and fighting for racial and gender equity.
Omar holds degrees in Business Administration, Political Science and International Studies. She completed a Policy Fellowship at University Of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. She has also served on numerous nonprofit boards, including: the Legal Rights Center; YMCA; Confederation of Somali Community of Minnesota; and the DFL State Central Committee. Omar has received multiple accolades and awards, including the Rising Star Award from DFL Women’s Hall of Fame.
Most Rewarding Work Experience?
I’ve enjoyed a career rooted in advocacy. Right now my work focuses on ensuring our laws are just and enacting polices that are going to create an equitable and prosperous society. I’m excited to author a bill that will help reform the criminal justice system. I’m also working on issues concerning voter accessibility and small business support. I look forward to continuing to advocate for fair and inclusive policies for my constituents.
What Inspires You?
I’m inspired by people who create opportunities for themselves and know their own worth. One of my favorite quotes comes from Shirley Chisholm – “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
Advice for Aspiring Politicians
Many folks feel as if democracy is only for certain people. Often times we think this political process is for someone else and we feel the need to ask for permission before getting involved or taking a lead. I would like to say to them, this is ours! We don’t need permission to show up and we don’t need permission to stay. If we think something isn’t working then it is our prerogative and obligation to step up and try to fix it. We must not only think of ourselves as leaders of the future, but as leaders of today.
I believe minority communities and women in particular often feel there is a specific path set before us, and shy away from new opportunities. However, we are resilient and creative people and we should chart our own path and create new avenues for involvement. I advise all to create your own opportunities when there are none.
- Mogadishu, Somalia
- University of Minnesota
- North Dakota State University
History. Tradition. Community.
Before Ilhan Omar today’s Legacy Leader demonstrated a commitment and dedication to community. Representative Keith Ellison has served as the U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th congressional district since 2007. He is a member of the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party. He is also co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus for the 113th Congress, and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, founded the Congressional Consumer Justice Caucus, and belongs to more than a dozen other caucuses that focus on issues ranging from social inclusion to environmental protection. His commitment to consumer justice includes authoring legislation included in the Credit Cardholder’s Bill of Rights of 2009.
Before being elected to Congress, Rep. Ellison was a noted community activist and ran a thriving civil rights, employment, and criminal defense law practice in Minneapolis. He also served two terms in the Minnesota State House of Representatives. Rep. Ellison was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. He has lived in Minnesota since earning his law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1990. He is the proud father of four children.