On any given Friday night, even in the bone-chilling cold, Abdirahman Mukhtar stands at an outdoor plaza in Minneapolis, offering young passersby free pizza and hot Somali tea thick with spices. His aim: Making a connection with youths who are all too frequently alienated from their community.
“Zack, Adan, pizza?” Mukhtar called out to a group of teens in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood on a recent frigid night. They told him they were headed home. He gave them a box of cheese pizza and a few words of advice: “Stay indoors, OK?”
Mukhtar, 37, works by day as Minneapolis parks’ community outreach and access coordinator. Ten weeks ago, he started his second, volunteer job doing street outreach on Friday nights.
His group, called Daryeel Youth (daryeel is “care” in Somali), wants to meet and help East African youth who are homeless, hooked on drugs or maybe hanging out with the wrong crowd.
Mukhtar said some members of their own community might neglect these youth, or label them gang members or criminals. “We really act like they don’t exist,” he said. “That really bothers me.”
It’s personal for Mukhtar. He knows nearly all the names of Somali youth in this neighborhood. He grew up here and worked as a youth program manager at the Brian Coyle Community Center. He has seen the best and the worst.
He has seen young people he mentored succeed in life. He has a 15-year-old son, and he’s known youth around that age who are addicted to drugs. He has seen others stranded out in the cold, with no one coming to their aid. He’s known some who have been shot to death.
“A lot of times I see young people who are crying for help,” Mukhtar said. “I see mothers and parents who are really struggling who don’t know what to do and how to help their kids.”
Rising concerns over crime: Mukhtar’s street outreach comes at a time of rising concerns over crime in the Cedar-Riverside area.
Violent crimes rose from 54 in 2010 to 84 last year, largely driven by a surge in robberies and assaults, according to Minneapolis police statistics. Authorities point to a simmering rivalry between St. Paul and Minneapolis East African gangs as a cause of much of the violence.
In recent weeks, a group of Cedar-Riverside-based businesses have pooled money to hire security officers to keep peace in the area. “Our youth don’t have a place to go and hang out around Cedar Avenue,” business owner Fartune Del said at a Minneapolis City Council public hearing on Dec. 6.
“So they choose to come in front of the businesses and the only thing they do is to do drugs. And when they do that, they are not holding anything. They are just going to rob and kill.”
So Del went to businesses in the area and collected $9,000. Eventually, she hired Somali-speaking off-duty officers for four hours every week.
“That had made a lot of difference,” she said. Mukhtar offers a different solution. Business owners want more police on the street, but local youths want less of a police presence, Mukhtar said.
Daryeel Youth gets support from Somali-owned businesses such as Deg Deg Grill and Capitol Cafe, which donate pizza and tea.
Source: Star Tribune