Somali Week 2017

Photo: Deeq Darajo

This year’s Somali Week at the beginning of July was filled with festivities and activities staged by local organizations. The festivities began with a soccer tournament, followed by a spoken word event at the Minnesota Historical Society, a basketball tournament and the Somali Independence Day festival. The Somali-American newspaper set up a booth at the intersection of Nicollet Avenue and Lake Street where we were able to capture a lot of special moments.

Somali Week began a decade ago in 2007 as a single-day parade that grew to an activity-filled week, The Somali Independence day festival attracts around 50,000 people, spans 3 blocks on Lake Street and blocks traffic from 11am to 10pm. The event is attended mostly by Somali Americans, but many non-Somalis show up as well.

One of the main attractions of the Somali Independence Day parade is the children’s play area which includes a large inflatable slide, face painting, henna designs, traditional animals and more.  This year’s event was held on July 1, a pleasant Saturday, a week after Ramadan, and most people were in a celebratory mood. As participants waved Somali flags, the parade kicked off in high gear around 2pm.

Photo: Deeq Darajo

At the intersection of Lake Street and Blaisdell Avenue a stage was set up in front of hundreds of tents occupied by local businesses.  A DJ played Somali songs as a group of traditional dancers warmed up before the growing crowd. The children, the elderly and the youngsters were all very cheerful and happy to see their fellow Somali-Americans. Many brought out their own cameras and camcorders to catch some of the action.

The event was organized by Kajoog, a local non-profit organization that helps engage Somali youth in after school activities. The organization recently made news for declining a half-million dollar federal grant after Donald Trump was elected president. The group’s executive director Mohamed Farah is quoted saying that Trump’s rhetoric and travel ban on Muslims is a cancerous ideology that they don’t want to be part of.

Mohamed Farah welcomed everyone with a short speech followed by a prayer. Then a group of singers performed the Somali national anthem. Umut Acar, the Turkish consul general in Chicago, then took the stage and congratulated the Somali people in Minnesota and around the world. Turkey began  investing in Somalia more than a decade ago and is considered one of Somalia’s closest allies. Many people in the crowd were waving Turkish flags in solidarity with Turkey as they celebrated their own independence day. The consul general highlighted Turkey’s investments in Somalia and even encouraged the crowd to return home and help rebuild Somalia.

Photo: Deeq Darajo

After the consul general left the stage, dancers entertained the crowd with some dhaanto (traditional dance) followed by a fashion show. By 6pm, the stage was rocking with DJ Jeylani who managed to allot time on the microphone as different speakers took  turns addressing the crowd.

Somali Independence Day is celebrated on July 1 as it is the day the Italian Somaliland united with British Somaliland to form the Somali Republic.  British Somaliland gained independence from the Britain on June 26, 1960,, and four days later, Italy granted its territory independence on July 1st, 1960.  On that same day, the two countries united to become the Somali Republic. In 1991, what had been British Somaliland declared its own independence and broke off Somalia, but this act has not been internationally recognized.

Many people stopped by the Somali-American booth to express their love for Somalia and its culture. Faiza Noor, a recent graduate of Minneapolis Southwest high school, said “Somali Independence Day means a lot to me because it’s the only time I see this many Somalis in one place. I was born in Minnesota and have never been to Somalia, but I am still proud of my Somali heritage”.

Said Hamza Ahmed: “I always ask Allah to keep me alive to see the day Somalia becomes a strong peaceful and democratic nation”.

Around sunset, hundreds of volunteers wearing bright yellow shirts went around cleaning up the parade route. Somali Week festivities concluded at around 9.30pm, and Lake Street was open again for traffic at 10pm.

Special thanks to Deeq Darajo for photographing Somali Week 2017. See the pictures from this fantastic event below: