African community honors local hero

Abdirizak Mahboub was the executive director of the Cedar-Riverside NRP.

Mukhtar Ibrahim

When he moved to Minnesota from Maine in 2006, Abdirizak Mahboub saw several killings in the state’s Somali community, including that of an Augsburg College student who was shot dead in broad daylight after tutoring at the Brian Coyle Center.

“It really affected me that we should not lose this type of youth,” Mahboub said.

Following four years of community involvement, including serving as executive director of the Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood Revitalization Program, Mahboub is now gearing up to attend the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, where he will pursue a master’s degree in
public affairs.

He moved from Maplewood to the Seward neighborhood in 2009 to be closer to the East African community on the West Bank. When he’d lived there for only two months, three men were killed in a botched robbery at Seward Market and Halal Meats.

The Seward shooting was another big wake-up call that aroused Mahboub’s determination to do something.

He found a lack of communication between the longtime residents in the West Bank community and the East African immigrant community and worked hard to bridge the gap.

But Mahboub, an engineer by profession, never expected he would become so involved in community issues.

In January 2007, he got a job as a refugee resettlement program manager at the Neighborhood House, a multi-lingual support center for refugees, immigrants, youth and neighborhoods.

His job at the Neighborhood House exposed Mahboub to the high percentage of immigrants who never received formal English and interpretation training. In response, he started an interpreting service that trained people to become proficient interpreters.

When he heard the executive director position at the Cedar-Riverside NRP was open, Mahboub said he applied right away.

Mahboub, who has a degree in mechanical engineering from Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, said that while he’s still passionate about engineering, his turn toward community involvement was an “amazing transformation.”

Hussein Samatar, the executive director of African Development Center, described Mahboub as a “connector.”

He connected “the new communities coming to Cedar-Riverside and the people who have been here” before, Samatar said.

“He just knows so much about the neighborhood history and the different stakeholders in the community,” said Ramla Bile, communications and fund development manager at ADC.

Making sure the neighborhood is safe was a hallmark of Mahboub’s NRP tenure. He would perform safety walks with groups of elders and youth every Tuesday and Friday evening.

“He worked hard to improve the safety of the neighborhood,” said Russom Solomon, the chairman of the safety committee of the West Bank Community Coalition.

Now, Mahboub is leaving the position to further his education at the University.

Mahboub took a class called “Leadership for the Common Good” last spring at the Humphrey Institute in which he wrote a case study analyzing the challenges that youth are facing.

“Cultural issues, poverty and neighborhood history all contribute to youth violence in our neighborhood,” he wrote in the case study.

He said many youth between the ages of 18 and 25 are not working, dropped out of school, and some become hooked on drugs and eventually end up teaming up with gangs.

After the funding for the city’s 20-year Neighborhood Revitalization Program dried up last August, the program was in a state of uncertainty. It received $3 million in May 2010, but its ultimate fate is yet unknown.

Having been awarded a Bush Foundation Fellowship to attend the University, Mahboub said he hopes to learn more about policy-making so that he’ll have the training and education necessary to defend the rights of those in his neighborhood.

“If you don’t understand how the policy is being implemented and made,” he said, “you can’t advocate for your community.”