Cedar initative combats stigma

Organizers of a new campaign, #ProudtobeCedar, hope to shift the perception of the community.

Raj Chaduvula

A new campaign, spearheaded by the youth community in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, hopes to highlight the Somali community and fight stigma.

Called “#ProudtobeCedar,” the campaign began as a means to oppose Countering Violent Extremism — a Department of Justice program aimed at preventing terrorist recruitment. Started in Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Boston, the CVE initiative creates community and social programs to keep youth from joining terrorist groups.

Cedar-Riverside’s campaign comes amid the high-profile trial of three Somali men charged with travelling to Syria to join ISIS. Six others pled guilty to allegations earlier this year. 

The CVE program and media portray the West Bank area of Minneapolis as the hotbed for radicalization or terrorism recruitment, said Mohamed Mohamed, executive director of the West Bank Community Coalition.

The #ProudtobeCedar campaign is an effort by young Cedar-Riverside residents to fight against this image, Mohamed said.

Young people get a chance to tell their stories and build a counter-narrative to CVE and other stigmas around the Somali youth community, he said.

The campaign features photographs and videos of Somali youth giving anecdotes and perspectives on what it’s like to be Somali in the city. The movement also includes programs held by Somali youth to express their culture and history.

The campaign was recently incorporated into an art and music event on Sunday evening. It was hosted by Abduvarak Omar — also known by his stage name, Sisco — and consisted of poetry readings and musical performances by youth members of the Somali community on the West Bank.

Sisco said the CVE program perpetuates racism and singles out the community, painting young people in the community in a negative light.

The event was held to showcase various parts of Somali life and culture, Sisco said. Fully designed and hosted by young people, events like these give youth a platform to speak out against the stigma.

The #ProudtobeCedar campaign has two main goals, Mohamed said.

One is to show the uniqueness and individuality of each young person in the community, he said. The other focus is to show that the West Bank needs resources invested into its community and people, Mohamed said.

Youth are not faced with the amount of radical recruitment the media sometimes lets on, he said.

“Focusing on radicalization is focusing on a symptom,” Mohamed said.

The root cause is the West Bank neighborhood’s lack of funding and resources, Mohamed said. For a community that has no public school or library, and where the average income is about $12,000, more resources should be devoted to it, he said.

“There are other issues with the community such as unemployment and education,” Mohamed.

Funding for the community should not only come from anti- radicalization efforts or due to a political trend, he said.

The CVE program assumes that radicalization is the largest problem in the community, said Burhan Mohumed, youth and young adult organizer for the WBCC.

CVE appropriates the disparities and issues that already exist into its narrative, Mohamed Mohamed said.

Burhan Mohumed echoed these sentiments, saying that CVE programs bring resources to the community that are tainted by racist undertones.

“We asked the youth what they thought the biggest issues in the community were — none of them said radicalization,” Mohumed said, “[The Proud to be Cedar campaign] gives the youth their voice. … We can’t let CVE take that away.”