President Barack Obama has requested funding for Minneapolis to help combat young people’s recruitment into terrorist organizations, which has affected the Cedar-Riverside community for eight years.
The city was chosen last month as one of three places across the country to receive $15 million in federal grants and private donations to start up new programs aimed at deterring young people from joining terrorist organizations, like ISIS and al-Shabaab.
Though funding for the plan — called “Building Community Resilience” — is directed toward combatting recruitment, Cedar-Riverside community leaders said they hope to also use it for increasing young people’s access to college and jobs by expanding scholarships, boosting youth programs and increasing interactions between religious leaders and Somali youth.
“It’s not just about combatting ISIS but getting kids opportunities,” said Minneapolis Somali community leader Mohamed Jama.
The Department of Justice chose the Twin Cities for the one-year pilot program because of the state’s large Somali population and history with terrorist recruitment. Since 2007, the department has confirmed more than 20 cases of Somali-Minnesotans leaving the U.S. to join the Somali militant group al-Shabaab according to a February fact sheet from the department.
The plan — which was outlined at the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism late last month — will draw together local youth organizations, law enforcement and Somali leaders, said Ben Petok, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office. Boston and Los Angeles are the other two cities hosting similar pilot programs.
The Department of Justice is putting on job fairs in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood this spring as a small component of the program, which officials hope to fully implement by the fall, Petok said.
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Islamic advocacy group Cair Minnesota, said he doesn’t think the program should be headed by the justice department because of distrust that exists between community members and law enforcement.
He said the partnership could bring tension between community members and the organizations that use the federal funding.
“If the community does not trust your efforts, it will hinder any good that could come out of it,” Hussein said.
Andrea Arts, the youth program manager at the Brian Coyle Center, said right now, the center has limited resources for its youth programming.
She said she has questions about the new plan but is excited for the center to begin working with the Department of Justice.
“It’s amazing the amount of work that’s going on in Cedar-Riverside,” Arts said.
But she said the community is sometimes targeted because of its Somali population, and for her, it’s frustrating to see the kids she works painted as “at-risk” because of their ethnicity.
“Our youth are just youth,” Arts said. “They’re someone’s brother, they’re playing basketball and they’re doing their homework.”
While the Brian Coyle Center focuses mainly on children and teenagers, Jama said he’s mainly concerned about community members who are 18 to 24 years old. People within that demographic, especially those who are unemployed or in college, he said, are perhaps the most vulnerable to extremism.
“This is an ideology war,” Jama said.
He said he’s confident the “Building Community Resilience” plan will help give people in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood opportunities and skills they need to go to college and get jobs.
Cedar-Riverside community members plan to hold a kick-off event to discuss more details on the plan’s implementation later this month.
And though it’s initiated by the Department of Justice, Petok said, Somali community members in the area recognize the issues it addresses and are reaching out to solve them.
“The program really isn’t about what the DOJ or [Department of Homeland Security] is doing, but it’s really about what the community is doing,” Petok said.