Somali community joins politicians to hear and be heard :BY

Toranto [BMC]-Habiba Adan, with a force of conviction wrought by grief over her son's violent death, was instrumental in bringing together members of the struggling Somali community with provincial and city leaders to see what can be done about violence, unemployment and other major issues facing youth.

At the end of a day spent talking about some of the most intractable issues in this city, Laurel Broten, the province’s education and now newly minted children and youth minister, gave this message to Toronto’s Somali community:

“Today is just the beginning.”

The remarks came at the closing of a conference held to discuss issues affecting Somali-Canadians, particularly young men, six of whom have been shot dead in Toronto since June.

“We need to continue to have conversations; we need to look at working in partnership with our police, with our schools, with our community agencies, to respond to some of the issues that are specific to the community and tackle broader issues that have an impact on the Somali community, but there’s no doubt, have an impact on many communities,” Broten said in an interview with the Star.

About 200 people packed into a conference centre on Dixon Rd. on Thursday — a large contingent from the Somali community, as well as representatives from the Toronto District School Board, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair and MPPs. City staff were also on hand.

Canadian-Somali hip hop artist K’Naan flew in, making a rallying call for action.

The conference, as the government labeled it, (though many in the community that asked for it called it a summit), was closed to media.

But attendees said Blair encouraged Somali youth to apply to be police officers, addressing concerns that there is only one Somali cop in the city. There were discussions on how the criminal justice system interacts with Somali youth, as well as the lack of employment opportunities. Currently, the unemployment rate for Somali-Canadians is above 20 per cent, the highest of any ethnic group.

“I’m really hopeful something will come,” said Habiba Adan, whose 26-year-old son, Warsame Ali, was shot to death in Jamestown in September. In the months before her son’s death, Adan had joined a group of women working to lobby politicians and decision-makers for systemic change in the midst of a mounting crisis.