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A Maine City That Is 90% White Now Has a Somali Mayor


    She says that some individuals have been afraid to open their doorways when he knocked. Others noticed her hijab and assumed that she didn’t converse English.

    But Dhalak stored on knocking and telling his story.

    And she says quite a bit has modified because the days in 2018 when she first ran for metropolis council in South Portland, Maine — and gained. On Monday, she grew to become the primary black mayor of a small city on the state’s southern coast. And he’s thought of the primary Somali American mayor within the United States.

    Other South Portland councilors, who’re all white, voted for him unanimously, praising Dhalak for his devotion to the group and considerate consideration of the problems.

    Dhlak, 53, says his election exhibits what may be achieved when individuals discover methods to attach with one another quite than construct partitions.

    “People will always have some kind of reservation … but they will get to know you, listen to you, and see who you are through this,” she says.

    Given that Maine is whitest state in the country, and that South Portland is 90% white, Dhalak is aware of that his election is shocking to some.

    But she says that this could not occur. And that is one purpose she ran for workplace within the first place.

    He hopes that his election as mayor will encourage others to comply with in his footsteps.

    “I’m so proud that I’m going to open up a lot of avenues for other people who look like me, especially members of our youth community, to say ‘If this woman can do this, I really can do that. I can,'” Dhalak instructed town council final month after his nomination.

    “And not just for immigrants, first era or black individuals, but in addition for younger, white people who’re intimidated or don’t need to be a part of the civic duties that all of us have. … I say, ‘Yes, if I can do it, sure, you’ll be able to. We really want to step up, each one in all you on this stunning metropolis of ours.'”

    His election is a milestone

    The opening of Dhlak is a milestone for Somali immigrant communities that have grown in size and become more established in states such as Maine, Minnesota, Ohio and Washington. As has happened, more Somali Americans are taking on roles on local school boards and city councils – and also serving as lawmakers such as Representative Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota.

    Dhlak is the first Somali American mayor in the United States, according to New American Leaders, an organization that trains and encourages immigrants to run for office. But the organization says they hope she won’t be the last.

    Regina Phillips speaks with Deka Dhalak at the Eid al-Fitr festival on July 9, 2016 in Westbrook, Maine.

    “His management will definitely make a giant distinction not solely in South Portland, however throughout the nation,” said Gida Dagher, the organization’s president. “She’s going to set an instance for Somali Americans throughout the nation to step up and step into their very own management journey. … It’s about proudly owning your personal energy and potential in our democracy.” “

    Seth Goldstein, vice chairman of the South Portland Historical Society, says Dhalak’s election can be historic for South Portland, which has by no means had a black mayor earlier than.

    Goldstein, who teaches historical past and leads historic excursions within the space, says he’s delighted to see this new chapter in his metropolis’s historical past unfold.

    “It’s so exciting, I think it reflects that the community here is slowly changing,” says Goldstein.

    About 6,000 Somalians stay in Maine, Goldstein stated, because of a wave of migration that started within the early 2000s.

    His arrival has not all the time been greeted with open arms. In 2002, the mayor of Lewiston, Maine, attracted nationwide media consideration when he wrote an open letter asking Somali migrants to not come to his metropolis.

    But Dhlak says the individuals she has met in Maine have been welcoming, and in recent times she has seen extra Somalis and different immigrants in management positions within the state. In the previous, she says, immigrants have been extra hesitant to run as a result of their focus was on assembly and supporting their households’ wants.

    “I think we were always afraid to get involved. … We were waiting for (someone else) to do something,” she stated.

    In 2018, Dhalak bought uninterested in ready.

    Trump’s Presidency Helped Convince Him to Run

    Dhalak fled Somalia in 1990, simply earlier than the nation plunged into civil battle. After immigrating to the United States in 1992, she says it did not take lengthy for her to begin organizing fellow immigrants to develop into residents and vote. But he had by no means considered working for workplace himself, till he had a troubling feeling.

    “No matter how important my job was, we were missing out on the decision-making table,” Dhalak stated in his inaugural tackle on Monday.

    Deka Dhalak speaks during a 2016 rally protesting comments by Donald Trump, who was then the Republican presidential nominee.

    After former US President Donald Trump took workplace, Dhalak instructed CNN she felt much more decided to have her voice heard. She joined protesters at a 2016 rally after Trump denigrated Somali immigrants.

    The following yr, she participated in a protest in opposition to white supremacy and cheered from the gang when she declared, “I’m a Muslim, black immigrant woman, and I’m not going anywhere.”

    When there was an inauguration at South Portland City Council, Dhlak says lots of people have been pushing him to run. Once She was blessed by her household, began knocking on doorways, doing no matter she might to attach with voters and win them over.

    In 2018, she ran in opposition to an area enterprise proprietor and gained, Making history as first African American and first Muslim elected to council, In 2020, she ran unopposed for a second time period. The metropolis council chooses from amongst its members who would be the mayor, and in November, his colleagues unanimously supported his nomination.

    And on Monday, they voted to make it official. She will full a one-year time period.

    South Portland is residence to roughly 25,000 individuals, making it the fourth largest metropolis in Maine. It is neighboring the bigger metropolis of Portland and can be the most important mall within the state and half of the Portland International Jetport.

    Dhalak’s key priorities for town embrace bettering the response to local weather change, rising the supply of reasonably priced housing, and selling variety, fairness and inclusion.

    Being on the City Council of South Portland just isn’t a full-time job. Dhalak has a background in social work, and he’s by the day Family Connectivity and Cultural Accountability Specialist For Maine’s Department of Education. She additionally serves on a number of boards and is the mom of three grownup youngsters.
    Deka Dhalak in 2018.  She encourages other immigrants to be active in their communities.

    But it doesn’t matter what else is on her plate, Dhalak says she all the time desires group members to really feel comfy coming to her with questions.

    And they do, Dhalak says.

    “Why is it taking so long to build? … Why does this person have a rooster next door? You name it.”

    There is a Somali proverb behind his management philosophy

    On Monday, so many individuals wished to attend Dhalak’s opening that the organizers needed to transfer it to a bigger auditorium.

    Dhalak says that she is grateful to the members of the group who might see her as a stranger, however welcomed her as a substitute. And that connection ought to go each methods, she says.

    She additionally encourages fellow immigrants to depart their bubbles.

    “We’re living in the same place, so we should be in a relationship together,” she says.

    Members of the City Council of South Portland and staff give a standing ovation to the city's new mayor, Deka Dhalak.

    Dhlak factors to a Somali saying: “What I am missing is within my brother or within my sister.”

    He says because of this as a way to make one of the best choices, leaders should seek the advice of with the group.

    In his inaugural tackle on Monday, Dhlak promised as mayor to “keep an open mind and listen with empathy, compassion, grace and understanding, so that together we can serve South Portland.”

    The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

    CNN’s Hayley Wilson contributed to this story.



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