Council works to empower Cedar-Riverside youth

The group consists of 25 kids between age 13 and 21.

Cedar Riverside Youth Council member Kowsar Abdi, second from the right, supervises the chalk drawing station Monday outside the Brian Coyle Center. The CRYC organized the field day Monday as part of a week of events that for Youth Awareness Week.

Marisa Wojcik

Cedar Riverside Youth Council member Kowsar Abdi, second from the right, supervises the chalk drawing station Monday outside the Brian Coyle Center. The CRYC organized the field day Monday as part of a week of events that for Youth Awareness Week.

Megan Gosch

Youth played soccer and sketched chalk drawings on the sidewalks of Cedar-Riverside’s Currie Park on Monday as part of an event organized by their peers.

This field day was one part of the third annual Youth Awareness Week planned by the Cedar Riverside Youth Council. According to members, it’s just one of the ways the group attempts to achieve its main goal: engaging and empowering young people in the community.

Founded in 2007, the 25-member council was created in response to violence in the neighborhood, which often involved young adults.

“The council tries to fill a big hole in this community where there aren’t a lot of programs for young adults,” said Mubashir Jeilani, president of the council.

According to Mohamed Jama, co-founder and general director of the council, a lack of involvement opportunities caused problems in the past.

“If they don’t have ways to get involved, where are they going to go?” he asked. “They’re going to hang out on the street, which is where a lot of the problems start.”

“In this neighborhood, we don’t have a library. We don’t have a gym. But we have thousands of people living here,” said Abdulkadir Warsame, executive director of the Riverside Plaza Tenants’ Association. “They need as many opportunities as possible to get out and be doing something productive.”

The council often partners with other organizations and elected officials to confront local issues like redistricting and improving community relations with security officials.

Past projects coordinated by the council have included building a soccer field in Currie Park, the creation of a coffee kiosk at the Brian Coyle Center and several basketball tournaments.

Leaders and residents within the community hold the council in high regard for its commitment to put ideas into action. Elders, parents, kids and businesses often seek members for help with a variety of issues, according to community members.

“For anyone who may think that this is just a bunch of kids, they learn very quickly just how dedicated and hardworking the council is,” said Katie Hatt, a member of the youth council’s advisory committee. “They’re serious about the work that they do.”

Local service groups like Friends of the Mississippi River reach out to the council because of its reputation.

According to Katie Clower, FMR’s program assistant, the group is in a great position to take on leadership roles and make changes in its neighborhood.

Businesses and organizations throughout the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, including Sherman Associates, Augsburg College, the Mixed Blood Theatre and the Riverside Plaza Tenants’ Association, support the council.

“These kids are facing a lot of issues and are acting rather than sitting by and watching. They’re actually getting things done,” Russom Solomon, owner of the Red Sea restaurant and a board member of the West Bank Community Coalition.

Although the council often collaborates with community leaders and organizations, its members have written their own constitution, run their own elections and choose which issues and events they’ll work on.

All of the members in the council are between 13 and 21 years old, Jama said.

The council recently recruited an advisory committee of local leaders, like Councilman Cam Gordon, and representatives from supporting organizations to provide guidance in accomplishing their goals.

Jama said the council is working to acquire an office space and hire staff members.

“We have a lot of projects that we want to carry out, but we need the proper funding to make those happen,” he said.

But in the end, benefiting the community is the ultimate goal of the council, Jama said.

“At the end of the day we will bring change to this community, that is why we will not stop serving our community no matter what,” he said. “We’re making things happen, and the community has embraced and supported that.”