Ilhan Omar is our Personality for this month, and her journey to stardom is one that continues to inspire youths – especially women across Africa; from being a Somali refugee to US Congress.
Ilhan is the first Somali-American Muslim person to become a legislator and, as of November 2018, the first Somali-American elected to the U.S. Congress.
Ilhan, who is 36, is the youngest of seven children. In 1991, she fled Somalia with her family due to the country’s ongoing civil war, then spent four years in a refugee camp in Mombasa, Kenya, surrounded by tens of thousands of others. She came to America at age 12 and settled in Minnesota, where she learned the English language by watching American TV, and began interpreting for her grandfather at political events as a teenager. According to Ilhan, when she and her family arrived America, she expected the place to be a land of equality and acceptance, she said and was shocked to realize being a refugee, immigrant or Muslim could carry a stigma. “During my first years in America, I so desperately wanted people to see me as a person beyond my skin tone, my headscarf, my accent,” Ilhan said.
Ilhan was able to put herself through college and from then she secured a job in community nutrition and grew to become director of policy at the Women Organizing Women Network, which promotes civic leadership among East African women. In an interview she said; “I would have loved to have heard a story like mine. I could have used it as an inspiration to get by. The lesson is to be hopeful, to dream and to aspire for more.”
She began her political career managing city council campaigns and working as a senior policy aide for Minnesota politicians. In 2016 she won election to the state’s legislature – unseating a 44-year incumbent in the process.
Ilhan then decided to run for Congress and won Minnesota’s fifth congressional district in November 2018 – becoming the first Somali-American, and one of the first two Muslim American women to serve in the US Congress.
Ilhan’s victory statement after the election is one to hold to heart; “This really was a victory for that 8-year-old in that refugee camp,” Ilhan said. “This was a victory for the young woman being forced into child marriage. This was a victory for every person that’s been told they have limits on their dreams.”
Have you been told you can’t make it? don’t listen to them or that tiny negative voice in your head – just do it and believe in your dreams. Remember, you can be the next Ilhan Omar in any part of the world.