Nonprofit awarding $400K in grants to support Somali youth

Northeast nonprofit Youthprise will be awarding $400,000 in grants in late February for programs designed to build resiliency among Somali youth as part of a national effort to prevent radicalization.

The nonprofit, which is based in the Nicollet Island-East Bank neighborhood, is also funding other innovative projects for Somali youth, including Salon Africana — a community partnership launching in February led by East African vocalist and songwriter Somi, said Youthprise President Wokie Weah. Youth will be mentored during the program and encouraged to develop their own creative voices.

Wokie Weah, president of Youthprise

The Somali Youth Development Fund administered by Youthprise includes funding from the U.S. Department of Justice and private funding. It is part of the Twin Cities Building Community Resilience program, an effort led by U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger aimed at combating radicalization among Somali youth.

Similar programs are also underway in Boston and Los Angeles.

The Twin Cities Building Community Resilience program also includes a Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring project for Somali youth and a youth employment initiative of the City of Minneapolis and state’s Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Some in the Somali community have been suspicious of the program, however, and raised concerns about the potential for government surveillance.

Minnesota is home to largest Somali immigrant community in the country with most living in Hennepin County. Beginning in 2007, al-Shabaab started recruiting Somali Minnesotans to fight abroad for the terrorist organization, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame, 20, of Eagan is the most recent Twin Cities man charged with conspiracy to provide material support to ISIL. Luger and other law enforcement officials announced the charges Dec. 10.

The criminal complaint filed against Warsame alleges he and his co-conspirators started watching propaganda videos glorifying religious violence and stared discussing plans to travel to Syria to fight with ISIL. He later planned to travel to East Africa with his family and either travel to Syria or wait for ISIL to expand to Somalia and join forces with the terrorist organization there.

Warsame made his first court appearance Dec. 10 in federal court in Minneapolis.

“This defendant is the 10th Twin Cities’ man charged as part of a broad conspiracy to provide material support to ISIL,” Luger said in a statement. “The FBI and prosecutors in my office continue to work without pause to keep Minnesotans safe and bring these defendants to justice.”

Community leaders are hoping to intervene in the lives of at-risk Somali youth before they consider going down the path toward radicalization.

Weah said Youthprise is focused on building on existing relationships it has with Somali community and will prioritize Somali-led nonprofits and helping them build capacity.

“We will oversee a transparent and competitive grant making process to distribute $400,000,” Weah said in a recent interview. “We will prioritize investing in Somali-led organizations, collaborative partnerships and holistic approaches to healthy youth development.”

The request for proposals (RFP) for grant applications will be released Jan. 8.

Youthprise was established by the downtown-based McKnight Foundation in 2010.

It’s focused on championing learning beyond the classroom and accelerating innovation with the end of goal of ensuring all youth in Minnesota can thrive.

Beyond the Somali Youth Development Fund and Salon Africana, Youthprise is involved in the Pipeline to Integration initiative, which is bolstering the leadership of community groups serving Somali youth, and the East African Youth at Work program, an effort to improve employment outcomes for Somali youth ages 14 to 24.

 “As a grant maker, we really are interested in bringing a very holistic, positive youth-development approach to young people,” Weah said 

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For more information about Youthprise’s Somali Youth Development Fund, go to www.youthprise.org/Somali-youth-development