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Abdirizak Bihi is Working Hard to Bring People Together and Bridge Cultural Differences

Article by Claudia Kittock

I first met Bihi in a coffee shop in Cedar Riverside. His passion and energy bristled out of every pore in his body. I asked for the meeting so that I could learn about how I could be a better neighbor to people living in the Cedar Riverside area. Although only a few blocks away, it often seems as if there is a huge space separating us. I was ashamed of that, and once I realized it, vowed to do better. Meeting Bihi was my first step.

Abdirizak Bihi, Photo credit Global News

Bihi is currently the director of Director at the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center and manages the Somali Link Radio Show on KFAI FM. Describing Bihi in these simple ways is very much like calling a tornado a breeze. Bihi is everywhere, doing everything, and always has a kind, gentle heart guiding him. His resume is long, impressive, and ever evolving. Bihi is never still and never uninvolved.

I learned that Bihi’s route to America was not an easy one. He came to America and settled in Washington D.C. and within a matter of years left 3 times to help expedite the immigration of family members. Some of those trips lasted years as immigration is never easy and seldom fast. In the late 70s, he was hired by HCMC as a cultural liaison and moved his family to Minneapolis. His job included serving as a translator and assisting new refugees in navigating the system. Not an easy job, but one Bihi loved. His skills and his commitment to helping brought new jobs.

Bihi’s role in the Cedar Riverside community was elevated after September 11, when there were many misunderstandings between the Cedar community and the surrounding communities. The Cedar Riverside community was adamant about needing more Somali police officers and better trained officers. Bihi served as a negotiator between the sides and, today, there are 20 Somali officers, and 65% of young people in the neighborhood between the ages of 5-15 report wanting to grow up to be an officer in MPD. That was a momentous change.

The more Bihi served as a bridge between the Cedar Riverside community and the other communities in Minneapolis, the more his services were needed. Bihi seems unaware of the word "no" as his advocacy work is endless and he seems to never tire.

One of Bihi’s projects involved pairing the elders of the community with teenagers. He wanted the two groups to meet and talk with each other in order to dispel the incorrect ideas of each side. Bihi is passionate about how difficult it is to harshly judge someone once you get to know them, and project after project proves he is right.

Shortly after we met, Bihi asked me to be a guest on his radio show. While the purpose of my appearance was to talk about the Mill District and invite people from Cedar Riverside to join us at events, we quickly segued into a discussion about raising children. Bihi was eager to hear my opinions as a child psychologist about issues of parenting we all face. While I have never been an immigrant, I have been a parent, a professor, and a psychologist for a long time. As always happens, the longer we talked, the more we found we had in common, including that wonderful stage in every junior high child’s life when anything uttered by a parent is greeted with an eye roll and a sigh of disgust! A universal language.

One of the fascinating endeavors Bihi started was leading people on a tour of the Cedar Riverside community. As all of us who live in downtown know, seeing anything when you are walking is vastly different than driving by. Bihi told us about the places he takes people and I am embarrassed to say I only know a few of those places. Stay tuned! We are organizing tours very soon.

Another project that began last year involved getting more young people on bikes. Bihi contacted Allina Health, and Cedar Riverside became part of their project to put bikes into the hands of young people. In 2017 over 100 children received bikes, helmets, and instructions about riding. This summer, over 230 children received bikes, helmets, bike locks donated by Friends of the Mill District, with many volunteers to help the young people learn to ride. Some families were in line as early as 5 a.m. even though the event didn’t begin until 9 a.m. The joy and energy there was palpable.

When I asked Bihi how I could be a better neighbor, he said simply, “Show up!” I took this seriously and have been doing just that. My life has broadened and grown so much richer because of the simple act of showing up. Now when I go to an event in Cedar Riverside, I am honored to have neighbors shouting for me to "Come here!”

How can you "show up"?

• Come to the park next to the Brian Coyle Center between 5-7 pm on any day. You will meet many neighbors and find that the activities there are similar to the ones in Gold Medal Park. It is just a different group of neighbors.
• Soccer will be starting soon and is very competitive and interesting. Attend a game.
• Youth baseball starts soon. Show up!
• Sign up for a tour as soon as they are offered.

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About Claudia Kittock

Claudia is a resident of the Mill District. In addition to writing for Mill City Times, she is a founding Board Member of Friends of the Mill District. Claudia is the author of Health Through Chaos, mentors young adults at YouthLink, and has served on the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association (DMNA).


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