Back to Episode # 18

Intro  00:00
Life After Now.


Liz Bolsoni  00:07
Welcome to the Life After Now podcast. I'm your host Liz Bolsoni. I'm a communication studies major at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota. This podcast is a place for young people like you to gather information about education, and think about what it means for your life after now. You'll be able to connect with inspirational guests who have firsthand experience and expertise surrounding education in Minnesota. Today, I'll be talking with Nimo Omar. She is the cofounder of Minneapolis's Awood Center, an East African economic and political empowerment nonprofit. She's also a fellow Katie and a student leader on my campus. So Nimo, thank you so much for joining me today.


Nimo Omar  00:50
Thank you for having me, Liz.


Liz Bolsoni  00:52
Would you take a moment to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit more about who you are what you do?


Nimo Omar  00:56
Yeah. So my name is Nimo Omar. I am currently a student at St. Catherine University. I'm also a labor organizer. I've been doing organizing in the community since I was 19. And that organizing has led me to cofound a nonprofit organization called the Awood Center.


Liz Bolsoni  01:17
Yeah, that's great. And you know, we've got a lot to talk about today, but I do have a fun icebreaker before we get into that. So I want to know if you have any words of advice or affirmation to your high school self, what would you say?


Nimo Omar  01:31
That's a good question. I think one word of wisdom, I would say is patience. I think when a lot of young folks are in high school, and early on in college, we're all trying to figure out, you know, what we're going to do next in this world. And now that I'm in my early 20s, I look back and I always like, I told myself, like, "Things are gonna get better, and you don't have to have everything figured out. And I think with time and patience, and also hard work, that things can, you know, can come to flourishing." And so, yeah, I think it would definitely be "Be patient." And also, you don't have to figure everything out.


Liz Bolsoni  02:12
Yeah, great advice. You say you identify as a nontraditional postsecondary student, because you took some time off in between school and going back to school. So can you tell us a little bit more about that? And why you decided to put school on pause? And, you know, what made you come to that decision? And were you glad you made it?


Nimo Omar  02:35
Yeah, yeah. So I think identity is important to me. And so like, to kind of, you know, give the listeners a better picture. I'm, you know, a first generation Black Muslim woman, born from immigrant parents. And I think a lot of immigrant students and adults would definitely resonate with this, but like, a lot of our parents would want us to, you know, become doctors, lawyers, or go into professions that are, you know, mainly like in the STEM field. And so after high school, I wanted to become a nurse. So I decided to major in health science. And as I was taking the courses, I kind of hit a wall. and was like, you know, "I love serving people, and I love, you know, giving back, but there's something missing." And so during that time, I kind of, you know, stepped back a little bit and got involved on campus. But I had to really figure out, you know, do I want to do this because my parents want me to become a nurse and go to PA school and a future or there's something out there for me. And so I decided to take a couple years off to figure out, you know, what is -- I didn't want to, like, go to school and pay and take all the classes and, you know, spend a lot of my resources and money and time, and then eventually, not like what I was doing. And so I stepped back, I took like, you know, kind of took some time off and got into the real world to figure out what is, what does Nimo want to do? And I had to like, kind of ask myself in third person, but yeah, and I think it was the best decision I've made.


Liz Bolsoni  04:14
Yeah, so I'm glad that that is the, like, the place you landed at. Initially, did your family or your educators support that decision to take some time off?


Nimo Omar  04:27
So yeah, so my parents were not happy, to say the least. They were -- especially my mother. She was really concerned, mainly because she was like, you know, "What's going on? Is there something going on in school that you need to tell me." and, you know, parents, you know, they, they want to help. Right? So she sat me down one day and asked me, "Hey, what do you want to do?" And I said, "Hey, I don't know. I love nursing. I want to make you guys happy, but I just don't think this is something I want to do." And she's like, "Okay, what about dentistry? What about, you know, becoming a lawyer or going to law school?" And she listed all these things for me and I was kind of sitting there like, "I don't know, I don't know if I want to do that." And so my mom, initially, in the first couple semesters that I took off, she was like, really nervous. And eventually, when she saw me getting involved in the community and doing a lot of great things, she was like, "Okay, well, she's figuring out, so let me just kind of step back a little bit." And she kind of give me that space. I know, for a lot of folks, that's not the reality. But I knew, even though it was hard, there were times where there were clashes in the family: "Go back to school, like, you know, this is just me get the paper and then figure out we want to do." But I knew I didn't want to use my time and the money that was being spent on campus to kind of just get something that I knew was not going to use in the real world. So eventually, she ended up becoming much more supportive.


Liz Bolsoni  05:45
Yeah. So you know, I wonder if you could explain how you think institutions or universities can better support students like yourself, who may have taken some time off or who also don't identify as traditional students? What is your response?


Nimo Omar  06:02
So I remember when I was in high school, I applied for Upward Bound. And Upward Bound is a federally-funded program. And it really helped me in my endeavors when applying to college. They helped me apply for FAFSA, kind of pick a career and stuff. So I think having programs accessible to students, especially first generation, you know, people of color and students that would not get the help at home, you know, having high school -- like having these programs are I think really crucial to taking that first step to go to college.


Liz Bolsoni  06:41
Yeah, so tell us a little bit about your experience on campus in leadership roles and what it taught you about yourself.


Nimo Omar  06:48
So when I went off to college, I was very curious. And like I said, I didn't know what I wanted to do. So I got involved on campus, I got involved with multiple clubs. And the first club that I got involved with was called Lakers. And there are a lot of other students of color in the club, and really what the mission of the club was to kind of empower students. I believe it stands for Leadership and Knowledge Empowers Real Students. And so it was mainly leadership based. And so I got involved and was connected to other students in different clubs. And after that, I decided to attend Student Senate meetings. And so I was really curious to see like, how does this school operate, mainly because in our club, you know, that's where the funding comes from. And so as I attended multiple meetings, I got involved from there and decided to go to a nonprofit called MSCSA, Minnesota State College Student Association; I think they changed their name now to Minnesota Lead. And I got involved in, you know, a year after decided to run for Student Senate president. And the reason being is because I saw a lot of the students who were not being supported, especially a lot of the students of color. And it was initially hard when I first ran because I was running against a lot of older white males. And a lot of them were actually also nontraditional students as well. And so it was incredibly hard. And I remember during the time when I was running, I had, you know, an opponent, and who openly used the N-word in front of me, and really didn't bat an eye, didn't really care. And so eventually, I did win majority of the votes and I became president. And he was he was actually my secretary, during time I served. And during that time, during the time I served as a president, I really got to see how leadership plays out in a way that I think a lot of leaders don't see. I knew that there was a lot of other Black Muslim students. And years on, when I left from the position, I was told a lot of the younger Muslim women decided to run for, you know, student government and decided to change some of the policies on campus because they were not happy with it. And so initially, when I was getting into it, I didn't really think much about it. But I think being involved -- all in all, I think, going back to the question, being involved on campus is incredibly important, because I got to see and witness a lot of important things that you otherwise wouldn't see, if you're just going in and out of, you know, the university.


Liz Bolsoni  09:23
It's really cool that you got the experience to, I guess, see, like, a little bit of behind the scenes and, you know, understand some of the framework of the place that is supposed to be educating you, right. And so it's important that you're a part of that process, or that you would want to be involved in change some of that. So that's awesome. So now that we know a little bit about your experience as a leader on your campus, it eventually led you to some even greater leadership. And I want to talk about your labor organizing, especially, you know, against Amazon, which made national headlines. Right. So why did you get involved in that cause? And what did you learn?


Nimo Omar  10:07
Yeah, so, I got involved in labor organizing around 2015, when Jamar Clark was shot in North Minneapolis. I was attending a momentum training for leaders across the country, but also a lot of folks in Minnesota, and I was invited by student leaders. And so during that weekend, I remember walking in on the last day, and when I walked into the room, I saw a lot of folks just bawling and really upset. And one of my close friends, I remember whom I walked up to her, and she was crying out, like, "Is everything oka? Did something happen? Did I miss something?" I know, I walked in a couple of minutes late that morning, and I was told a mile away from where we were training, a young Black man was shot in the back of his head. And so folks in the room didn't know what to do. And we were just in shock. And so we took that day, we took a pause, we didn't finish the training. And everyone just kind of went into organizing mode to kind of figure out okay, "What do we need to do for the community and for the families." Because there was just so much happening, so much chaos, and so much hurt. And so everyone, I remember, someone just grabbed a big poster, and everyone just started like writing and brainstorming out what we needed to do. And some of the witnesses were actually brought into the space to figure out what the family needed at the time. And I remember someone saying "no cop zone." We need to make sure that there's no like, there's no cops within the neighborhood, where Jamar was shot. And so we all went down to the fourth precinct where he was closely shot, and folks just made a huge circle around the precinct in the neighborhood and blocked that area. Eventually, what the families were that were asking were, you know, with the cameras to be released and demands on who killed, you know, Jamar. And there were so many unanswered questions. And so I remember that night, folks decided to, including myself, to sit in the Fourth Precinct, right in front of a little lobby area, and that eventually turned into an 18 day occupation in North Minneapolis. And so not to go too much into all the details, it's, you know, I think that moment really was a transformation, like, transformative for me, because I really got to see what police brutality looked like. I was also assaulted in that, that space by officers. It was really disheartening. Right? And, and in that moment, I remember it was one of the most, you know, hardest times in my life, because, you know, after that my mental health just really plummeted. And because I was seeing a different world -- that folks oftentimes see police brutality on TVs, and we read it in books, and we see it from our favorite authors and favorite, you know, icons -- but witnessing it is a different type of trauma. And so, after my involvement in BLM Minneapolis, I was a core member for a couple of years, and was heavily involved in attending conventions across the country to make -- and meeting families. You know, Tamir Rice's mother and so many other families that were affected in state killings. And so that eventually led me into -- I remember a friend of mine called me up one day and said, "Hey, we need some help at the airport. Some workers are organizing themselves. And we need someone who is badass and can translate Somali." And so I was like, "Okay, well, I can do that."


Liz Bolsoni  13:45
That's cool.


Nimo Omar  13:46
Yeah, so. So yeah, um, yeah. And then, after I got involved, the month after the -- after a five year campaign, the workers won a contract, their first contract. And so I kind of fell in love with labor after that. I was like, really curious to know more. Then that eventually led me to cofounding the nonprofit, the Awoods Center in 2017.


Liz Bolsoni  14:13
Yeah, thank you for sharing those stories, and it's really inspirational to a lot of students listening like me, given the space we are in now, where there's such a need for strong-willed and powerful young activists. I want to go back a little bit to your college experience, and then I want to hear some words of advice for our student listeners. But first, what other groups or what other ways were you involved on campus? And how important was that involvement? You know, especially after a four-year leave, how did that connect you with your community and your education?


Nimo Omar  14:51
So some other organizations that are, that I was involved -- I think I briefly mentioned MSCSA, which stands for Minnesota State College Student Association, I think they changed their name after I've left to Minnesota Lead. And so as part of the MNSCU system, a lot of the schools' student governments and student senates were under that nonprofit to advocate for higher education. And so when I was serving as a Student President, I would attend, you know, their yearly and monthly meetings. And I also took on a role as a platform representative and was overseeing for colleges in the metro area, and looking over policies of higher education and how we can better higher education in Minnesota. And so that initiative really led me to kind of fall in love with policy and the reason why I'm currently majoring in public policy. I saw how policy can affect our lives, and then not having the right folks, and the right intentions in policies can really affect people of color, and students across the state. And so being involved with MSCSA, and also just be involved in student government. And I think any student out there who is currently in school or in high school, getting involved can really open your eyes to so many things and can really help you figure out "Okay, this is not something that I really want." And, you know, you also meet students from all across of life and all, you know, students from different majors and stuff. And so I think that's one of the beauties of being a student leader on campus. So yeah, I think that was one of the most important pivotal moments in being a student leader.


Liz Bolsoni  16:36
And so you're wrapping up your college years, and we're -- congratulations, you're graduating so soon, that's exciting. But you, as a student have gone through, like us, you know, a challenging year, just, I mean, just to name a few: there's been immense racial injustice, there's been political unrest, you know, a pandemic, distance learning. And if you have any reflections on how you have or how you are working to overcome those challenges, could you share with our listeners?


Nimo Omar  17:06
Yeah, this is a really tough question, because I still don't have it figured out. Just being around folks who lift up your spirits. And being around people, my friends call it squad, like finding our squad, and finding loved ones who can really help you through these hard moments. When George Floyd was killed and murdered a lot of folks were in quarantine, a lot of us were in a shut down. And folks were isolated. And we were kind of deep in our thoughts. And I remember thinking, goodness gracious, like when I remember when Jamar was shot, and it was another space -- like I remember just being around so many people. And I cannot believe that I'm sitting here alone, going through this and looking at my phone and watching this on like, it was really difficult. And so one of the things I would definitely advise is finding your squad, finding people that will support you, uplift your spirits, and also finding things that help you and ground you in ways so that you don't get to that dark place.


Liz Bolsoni  18:13
That's great. And after working through those challenges and healing, we want to make change, right? So you were able to be involved with organizing for social justice, for labor rights. And that's really inspirational. I guess, I want to ask, there are so many causes, for example, like protecting natural lands at the golf course by my house, that's one of them, or people who are defending Line 3, or people who are at Girard and [Lake] Uptown, protesting for Winston Smith. Or, you know, there's, there are so many causes, it can be overwhelming. And it's kind of unfortunate that we have so much to be angry about, right. But I, I want to know, if you have words of advice to people who are looking to make change, and who are looking to get their boots on the ground like you have.


Nimo Omar  19:04
Yeah, this is also a question that can be answered in so many ways. But I think the first thing that comes to mind is going back to your inner self and figuring out what matters to you. Right? As an organizer, one of the things we ask people that are organizing is what is your self interest, right? In any campaign that you're working on, you always ask the base or the people that you're organizing, what is your self interest in this, and everyone has one. And also narrative is so important. And the reason why I say this is because when we are fighting for something, or fighting for anything, any type of social justice, there needs to be a narrative and there needs to be something that really ties us to the issue. And so one of the things that I remember during the campaign, I would always ask the workers, what is your story? You know, oftentimes people look at me like, "Why are you asking me this?" And I think people often miss that once you really understand the story, oftentimes, we get so passionate, and so you know, reactionary to a lot of the issues. And one of the most important things as an organizer that I found out during the time I was, you know, organizing folks is that when new folks find their self interest in a fight and they find their "Whys" of why they're getting involved in a certain situation, or certain campaign, or certain cause, it really helps you 10 times fold to kind of stay grounded into the work. One of the most important things as you get involved in any cause, I would say to any, any students is, you know, what is your story? What is your story? And what is your why? I think going into your inner self is, it's really crucial.


Liz Bolsoni  20:45
Sounds like we have a title for this episode. Yeah, I think when you're talking about narrative, that's exactly what we want to do on this podcast, because we want to have a collection of stories like you and other people. And hopefully one of them can resonate with a student listener who might feel lost right now, or who wants to -- who's excited about the next steps or, you know, there's a lot of different feelings people have as they graduate high school, and look into college. So I really, really appreciate your time. This has been a great conversation and everything you said, it's for the audience, but I take it to heart, like I really -- this episode has been really meaningful to me. So thank you for your time, sharing some inspirational thoughts with us. So appreciate it.


Nimo Omar  21:31
Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.


Liz Bolsoni  21:34
All right. Before we end here, I want to give a quick shout out to our listeners. Thanks so much for joining us today. This podcast is brought to you by the Minnesota Office of higher Education. I encourage you to dig into the resources mentioned in this episode, which you can find in the show notes on our website at Don't forget to follow this podcast on Apple, Spotify, Google Play or wherever you listen to your podcasts, so that you don't miss any future episodes. Until next time, I'm Liz Bolsoni. Stay well, stay hopeful, and stay ready because you all are the future.

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