The Northfield City Council appointed a number of young professionals to boards and commissions earlier this month, including a man believed to be the first Somali-American to serve on the Human Rights Commission.
Abdullahi Abdullahi, 28, immigrated to the United States from Somali with his family as a child in the mid-1990s. Born to middle-class parents, he said he was fortunate enough to be able to come to the United States in search of a better life. He later attended school at Minnesota State University, Mankato and Georgetown University, where he was a member of committees and organizations, including one related to slavery and reconciliation.
Abdullahi has started his own company, iZone Corp., an organization based in downtown Minneapolis focusing on entrepreneurial urban planning to revitalize communities and help minority tenants. Much of the organization’s work includes affordable housing, home ownership and connecting communities to needed resources. iZone Corp. has a contact with Dakota County and the CARES Eviction Prevention Program.
Prior to that, Abdullahi was also a transportation planner for the Minnesota Department of Transportation at its headquarters in St. Paul. He has experience in zoning laws, business law, affordable housing, community planning and bike-sharing programs.
Abdullahi said he was impressed with the vision of the city explained by Pownell during a recent conversation.
“I really really admire her work and her vision,” Abdullahi said.
Pownell said her nominations were based on a desire to bring more young professionals to city boards and commissions. She said in doing so, city boards and commissions incorporate people with more diverse perspectives into the decision-making process, regardless of political views.
“It’s really important to me that all people in our community, all people, feel that Northfield is an open and welcoming community,” she said.
In his HRC role, Abdullahi said he wants to emphasize transit options for all Northfield commuters. He is also looking to play a role in increasing city services for all demographics and finding additional ways to enhance cultural awareness in Northfield, possibly through projects.
Abdullahi said he wants to evaluate the urban planning master plan the city of Northfield has developed and see how staff can connect housing and transportation to that goal. He added he also wants to hear from community members and have an open conversation and dialogue with the public. Abdullahi said he is also striving to collaborate with community groups such as Growing Up Healthy and work with equity and inclusion initiatives already underway at St. Olaf and Carleton colleges.
“I really like that in Minnesota, being able to help,” he noted.
Abdullahi said he is “proud to live in Northfield,” because the city recognizes the importance of community involvement and harnessing the power of its citizens to create a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere for immigrants and refugees through private and public partnerships, an approach he described as atypical in small cities.
Abdullahi said human rights work is especially critical in the wake of the May 2020 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police Department custody and associated calls for police reform.
“At the end of the day we all want the same thing: A better place,” he said.