St. Paul will soon make history by inaugurating its first Somali-American City Council member.
The council and Mayor Melvin Carter have appointed Kassim Busuri to represent Eastside neighborhoods (Ward 6) and finish the term of Dan Bostrom, who abruptly announced his retirement in December after serving the longest time of any council member: 22 years. Busuri’s official inauguration ceremony is next Wednesday in council chambers, though he has already assumed duties as a council member. His term ends in December.
MinnPost interviewed Busuri about his background and what he’s hoping to accomplish in his new role. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Kassim Busuri: I was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. I’m 32 years old. I grew up in different parts of the United States but mostly in Mankato, Minnesota, where I attended middle school and high school. I graduated from Mankato East [High School]. I ended up continuing my education; I graduated from the U of M with my bachelor’s in political science and went back to Mankato for my master’s in education.
MP: What type of professional experiences have you had?
KB: I have mostly been an educator. I direct the Minnesota Da’wah Institute. I’ve worked with them since 2010. I directed a child care center in St. Paul for about six years, and then also I was a dean of students at the Universal Academy Charter School in Minneapolis for about a year and a half.
MP: So throughout those experiences, what are some of your biggest accomplishments?
KB: I’ve helped and mentored many youth [since] 2010, working with youth from all over the world, from all over the city. … The work that I’ve done [has been] mostly with children and youth. … But also for the city of St. Paul, I’ve been an ambassador and coordinator of the St. Paul community ambassadors, which is an early intervention initiative for St. Paul youth. There are about 30 ambassadors that walk every neighborhood of St. Paul, and they work with the kids and the youth who are on the street — guiding them and getting them on the right path. For example, some of the work that I did downtown was, I would work with the kids that were hanging out in the skyway — talking to them and directing them to the right places and resources so that they can get back on their feet, finding jobs, housing and the right resources.
Then, the other education part, being a dean of students at the school, I work with kids and families. … I usually help new immigrant families adjust their lives in the city, helping them find housing, helping them find employment and being a resource for them. There’s no, like, other community centers or places where they can go where they can get this kind of help in their language, in their culture.
MP: You bring a fresh perspective to the council; you’ll be the first Somali member to serve on it. What does that mean for you?
KB: I’m humbled. It means that the spotlight is on me now to see what I do. I want to make sure that I serve all of the St. Paul community — not just my community, but just to show them that we as Somalis can be part of the community that we serve, part of the fabric of society. And show that we can be politically active and give back to the community that has been so welcoming to us.
MP: What was the appointment process like?
KB: The job was posted, and a couple of the council members reached out to me and told me to apply. And I applied for the position, and then I got a call — it was very quick. I got a call about the position and the interview process, so I followed through with the process. I think there were about 15 people who turned in applications; seven were selected for the interview, and six ended up doing the interview at the end. I was selected from the interview process.
KB: When I was younger, when I was going to college, I used to work in that area … and I would say to myself this is a good spot — this is the area that St. Paul forgot about, the Eastside, Ward 6. I would always tell myself, why is it when I drive through here the roads are bad? Why is it that the houses are rundown? … There’s a lot of things, like, messed up on the Eastside. So, like, what’s wrong? Why isn’t the city doing anything about this part of the city? Did they forget about it? That’s when I made a pledge to myself that one day I would buy a house on the Eastside and be an engine of change. … And now I’m fulfilling that goal that I made when I was in college.
MP: What are some of the toughest challenges Ward 6 is facing?
KB: There’s a lot of vacant buildings, a lot of businesses closed. … I only have 11 months. There’s not much I can do other than focus on a few projects that I can home in on. I’ll probably work on affordable housing with the rest of the council — that’s a big issue in St. Paul — and trying to make initiatives for the youth. With the demand for affordable housing, there’s going to be construction. … So, I want to make sure that our youth, our young people, have opportunity to fill those jobs by going back and checking the ordinance and seeing how we can help our youth and those who are unemployed be a part of the change that’s going to happen on the Eastside — the change that’s been happening in St. Paul in general with the growing that we’re doing.
MP: Any other goals you’d like to share?
KB: My biggest aim is to help the residents of St. Paul and the residents of the Eastside, Ward 6, have an open government where they can come to my office; they can call my office, and we will respond accordingly, give back feedback and they try to fix the issues that we have. … My goal is to have at least once or twice a week where I’m in the ward at a coffee shop and the residents can come and talk to me. I want to make sure that we on the Eastside have access to our government, our local government, and that everyone is responding to us and [the issues] that we’re having.
MP: Do you think you will launch a campaign for a full, four-year term?
KB: I will not. It was one of the conditions that I don’t want a campaign because it’s short term. I will not run a campaign, but our team is looking into other options after this year. This was my first [time] in politics, and we’re going to explore as much as we can to see what we can do to help our St. Paul residents and Greater Minnesota.
KB: If the community wants to come to support this movement, it’s Wednesday, Feb. 6, at 9 a.m. [in City Council chambers]. And I’m going to be working right after the inauguration — I’m going to be going into meetings at 9:30 and for the whole day. I already started working this week and last week. I was meeting with residents and different district councils to talk about issues that they want me to focus on.
MP: Is there anything else you want people to know?
KB: Yes. I would like everyone to help and, to residents of Ward 6, to let me know the issues that they want me to focus on and to reach out to my office. We want to have an open government where people can voice their opinions and talk to us and let us know what is important to them.