Abia Ali: Youth Hero
Woman Becomes First Somali and Muslim to Win Police Volunteerism Award
By Asma L. Saroya, Engage Minnesota
Last summer, I volunteered as a camp counselor at a week-long summer camp organized by the Muslim Youth of Minnesota. At one of the camp sessions focusing on heroes, I asked the kids to share the names of their heroes with the group. I was expecting the typical answers: mom, dad, a teacher, maybe even a basketball player. But when we had made a complete circle around the group, half the kids had said their hero was Sister Abia.
Abia Isse Ali is a Twin Cities Somali activist who focuses her work on the youth in her community. On Wednesday, Feb . 20, she will become Minneapolis’ first Somali and its first Muslim to win an annual Minneapolis Police volunteerism award. Minneapolis Chief of Police Tim Dolan will present Abia with the 2007 Teresa S. Ruhland Youth Award, an honor that recognizes adults who reach out to young people to build a better future for all city residents.
The award is named after Teresa Ruhland, a longtime, visionary employee of the Community Crime Prevention/SAFE unit of the Minneapolis Police Department who died unexpectedly in 2000.
In addition to volunteering many hours a week, Abia works full-time. Like Officer Teresa Ruhland, Abia is also a mother of three young children. She, too, focuses not only on the future of her own children but is committed to creating a positive future for all of the children in her community.
Her Heart Remains in Somalia, But She Embraces Minnesota
Abia moved to Minnesota from Somalia. Her heart is still in Somalia, but she also has embraced America. Abia teaches children in her community to be positive, active community members. She organizes numerous volunteer activities for children, which focus on improving the community they live in.
In the summer of 2007, Abia helped organize a “clean up your neighborhood” project with the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center youth group. The children, equipped with gloves and trash bags, went around the neighborhood surrounding the Islamic Center, on 13th Avenue in South Minneapolis, to pick up trash. They learned the importance of cleaning up their neighborhood, and they also learned that they have the power to make a change in their world. Many neighbors spontaneously joined in this effort. After the clean-up effort, neighbors and volunteers were invited to join together for food in a tent set up outside the Islamic Center in an effort to get to know one another.
Abia empowers kids. She provides them with resources to change their situation and to feel confident about themselves. She also plays the role of a mentor in the lives of many children. She gives kids rides, checks up on them regularly, and helps them stay focused on school. I often find Abia at the Islamic Center on the weekends, surrounded by a group of girls, helping them with their homework. She is always available to help these girls and listen to them.
Abia co-founded the Girls Youth Program at the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center. Through this program, she focuses on increasing the girls’ confidence and self-esteem, teaching them to be proud of their identity and culture, as well as providing them with valuable problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills. Abia also organizes fun activities such as roller skating, sleepovers, swimming, basketball, picnics, and more. She often arranges these activities when the kids have a long break from school, or on the weekends, to help keep them engaged in positive and safe activities.
Abia always has the needs of the youth in mind. In December 2007, when she realized that there wasn’t a main attraction for kids at an Eid celebration, Abia went to the nearest Toys-R-Us store and bought a moonwalk. She donated it to the Center so that the kids could use it every year.
Abia has a wonderful, giving nature and will help those in need in any way she can. When Abia recently came across an elderly woman wearing sandals, she jokingly reminded her that she was not dressed for Minnesota’s extremely cold weather. The woman replied that the sandals were the only shoes she owned. Abia immediately dropped everything she was doing and went to the nearest store to buy the woman a pair of boots.
I learned later that some of the kids at the summer camp, in which I was a camp counselor, were there because Abia had provided them with the camp application forms, helped them fill out the forms, helped with with their application essays, and had also arranged for payment of their camp fee. In addition to all of that, Abia had arranged for a van to drive the kids two hours to and from the campsite.
I now understand why, during the camp session focusing on heroes, Abia’s name kept coming up. She definitely is a hero to many kids in the community.
Come Honor Community Hero Abia Ali
You can join us in celebrating our community hero, Abia Ali. The Minneapolis Police will be holding a special ceremony on Wednesday, Feb. 20 at 6:30 p.m. Abia will be presented with a commemorative award, and will have her name added to the plaque at the Third Precinct’s Ruhland Community Room. She also will receive a $250 gift card. The ceremony will be at the St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church, located at 3450 Irving Avenue South, in Minneapolis.
Asma Lori Saroya is the General Crime Victim Services Program Coordinator at the Council on Crime and Justice. She is a graduate of the College of St. Catherine and lives in Blaine with her husband. In her spare time, Asma volunteers with the Muslim Youth of Minnesota and the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American–Islamic Relations. She also teaches English at the Cedar-Riverside Adult Education Collaborative. Asma is a fall 2007 graduate of the Minneapolis Police Citizens Academy.