Yonis aims to be first ever Somali Park Board commissioner

The 26-year-old says he wants more opportunities for youth at the Park Board

Hashim Yonis poses with Minnesota Supreme Court Justice and former Vikings player Alan Page Credit: Submitted photo

President Barack Obama called him his East African brother and Mayor R.T. Rybak predicted he would someday become the president of Somalia.

For now, Hashim Yonis wants to become the first-ever Somali elected to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

Yonis, 26, filed paperwork today to run for an at-large Park Board seat. The North Minneapolis husband and father of two boys will be fighting for one of three at-large seat in what should be a competitive field that features two incumbents in John Erwin and Annie Young, plus a former Park Board president in Tom Nordkye.

Yonis said the all-white Park Board needs more diversity to better represent the diverse Minneapolis population.

“I want to bring a different perspective and I want us to have a different voice within parks and recreation,” Yonis said.

Yonis was one of the first ever interns in the STEP-UP program, an initiative created by Rybak in the mid-2000s, when Yonis was a student at Edison High School.

That internship gave him experience working for Minneapolis Public Works and Faegre & Benson law firm. He went on to get a degree from St. Olaf College in social studies education and American history. He also has a master’s degree in educational leadership from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota.

Yonis works for the Park Board now, doing youth programming on the south side. He said the big development projects the Park Board is working on are great, but he wants to focus more on the youth and the elderly.

“There are so many other projects that we can do, such as providing the right and appropriate resources to our youth within the city of Minneapolis,” he said. “We don’t have a program for elderly people, which is very, very said to see for an elderly group of people to sit around the park and not to be engaged in the buildings.”

Rybak only found out about Yonis running for Park Board today, but he quickly provided a glowing endorsement for the candidate.

“Hashim Yonis is one of the most promising young leaders in Minneapolis today,” Rybak said. “His energy, effectiveness and fresh perspective is exactly what we need to improve park services to an increasingly diverse city.”

This spring, Rybak gave his state of the city address, and he pretended the year was 2025. Wearing a grin on his face, Rybak predicted Yonis would be the president of Somalia by then.

Yonis was born in Somali but his family fled to refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. He said he came to Minneapolis when he was 10.

In 2012, he and Rybak went to Washington, D.C. to meet with Obama about youth summer work. Yonis told Obama his life story. Obama called Yonis his “East African brother.”

Yonis said he has a few major endorsement to announce, but wasn’t expecting a call from a reporter so soon. He said he is “100 percent” DFL.

Rybak said he’s endorsing Yonis and will also endorse Erwin. He said it will be difficult to choose who his last endorsement in the race.

“Our parks are especially about young people, and Hashim works with them every day,” Rybak said. “He will be able to bring their voices into decisions that directly affect them.”