Denise Velez

A Muslim Migration: Somalis in Maine

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Sahro Hassan, a young Somali Muslim immigrant to Maine who is designing fashions

There are parts of the United States that I think of as populated by white folks. With the rise of anti-immigrant rhetoric from the right, and specifically anti-Muslim spews, I certainly didn’t think of a state like Maine as a place to examine African migration to the U.S. And yet, one of the most interesting immigration and re-settlement success stories, is that of the Somali-Americans who live, flourish, and have re-vitalized the economy of a depressed area — the Somalis of Lewiston, Maine.

The Accidental Melting Pot

Take an economically struggling Maine mill town of 36,600 and add to it nearly 5,000 Somalis seeking haven in a new country. On the surface, it hardly looks like a formula for success. When the first substantial numbers of Somalis began arriving in 2001 in Lewiston, they were not welcomed with open arms. Unemployment was high, and locals feared that new arrivals would overburden social services and increase competition for the few jobs left after the closure of once-thriving textile mills.

Despite Lewiston’s economic slump, it was one of the US cities that Somali refugees themselves found attractive—through websites and word of mouth: good schools, affordable housing and, most important of all, a safe place to raise a family. Many brought a strong sense of community and entrepreneurship; they enrolled their children in the local public schools, signed up for English courses and found—or created—jobs.

Today, per-capita income in Lewiston is rising. The crime rate has dropped. The center of town, once called “The Combat Zone,” has new, family-owned grocery stores offering halal meats (prepared following the Islamic method of slaughter), and there are storefront mosques in between new organic-food cafes as well as other more conventional businesses. “Challenges still exist,” comments Julia Sleeper, founder of Lewiston’s Tree Street Youth Center. “Acculturation is messy.” But relations, she says, continue to improve. This, she says, is “testimony to the strength of both communities.”


In Support of Dr. Larycia Hawkins

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Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian liberal arts college in Illinois was founded by abolitionists in 1860. Over 150 years have passed since that time, and Wheaton is again faced with taking sides in a controversy. This time it is not the question of the enslavement of blacks, it is the question of academic freedom for a black professor, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, who in 2013 became the first black female tenured professor at Wheaton. She has taken a stance on a question of theology — do Jews, Christians, and Muslim worship the same God?”

The institution is no stranger to controversy. As the world changes outside of its hallowed halls, Wheaton has had to grapple with the subject of evolution, and with LBGT students and alumni. They have gone to court to block student access to birth control and emergency contraception under the Affordable Care Act.


Naturalize Now! New campaign to increase naturalization

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In this new ad campaign video, we hear the hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric of Donald Trump, overlaid with visuals of the faces of Latinos in the United States, including former astronaut José M. Hernández, who is a first generation American. His parents are from Michoacán, Mexico.

Latino Victory Foundation and National Partnership for New Americans Launch the New American Democracy Campaign to Increase Naturalization and Mobilize Immigrant Voters

The NADC’s mission is to increase the naturalization rate, and register and mobilize millions of voters, with the goal of increasing naturalization by 38 percent to 1 million in 2016. Currently, there are 8.8 million legal permanent residents who are eligible to apply for citizenship but don’t do so because they don’t have the resources—financial or other—to do so, don’t understand the process, or are scared.

The New Americans Democracy Campaign is supporting a national goal of raising the number of naturalizations next year by 38% to 1,000,000 new citizens. The NADC field will engage 750,000 immigrants and assist 98,000 with their naturalization applications. In addition the NADC will engage and assist 45,400 new Americans with their voter registrations.

If we add the 8.8 million residents who are eligible to naturalize to the 1.9 million U.S. citizen children of immigrants who are eligible to vote, and an additional 11.5 million Latino voters who do not turn out to vote, this would add a significant number of voters to the electorate. If only 20 percent of these potential voters naturalize and vote, 4.4 million Latino and immigrant voters’ voices would be heard at election time.

The ad:


On Black American Muslims.

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The Greatest.

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. One of the most well-known, recognized and beloved Americans of all times—world-wide—is Muhammad Ali.

Ali may be the face many of us connect to when thinking of black Americans and Islam, but the roots of Islam in America go back to the founding, and have been a key part of black American culture.

I had written something else for today, and decided to scrap it. I’m beyond angry.

The dangerous witch-hunt spews from Trump and his rabid supporters, the anti-Muslim hysteria in the press and online strikes close to home for me. I am not Muslim, though I often wear a head-wrap. My husband’s name is Nadhiyr, and he is the Puerto Rican grandson of a South Asian immigrant. I have cousins who are Muslim and I spent my teenage years in a neighborhood in Queens NY where many of my neighbors were black American jazz musicians — who were Muslim.


On Islamophobia and Blackphobia

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On my way to school yesterday, I stopped to get gas for my car, at the gas station I usually patronize. I’m friends with the manager, and we often chat a bit. He has helped me out on a number of occasions — putting air in my tires, helping me figure out why a particular warning light has come on, and we talk about a variety of topics. Yesterday he was angry, and also fearful. He’s a Muslim American citizen, originally from Yemen. He votes. He won’t be voting for Donald Trump or any of the Republican candidates. I flashed back to what happened up here where I live after 9/11. My husband and I were worried about the safety of Muslim neighbors. I worried about my cousins in New Jersey, who are black American Muslims. I’m worrying about them now. I feel pain for friends with whom I have attended Masjid. Some are black Americans, some are from places like Mali, Somalia and Eritrea.

I sit here and think about one of the most beloved people world wide — Muhammad Ali. I have been following the career of our young black American Muslim fencing star, Ibtihaj Muhammad, who “Hopes to make history in 2016 as the first U.S. athlete to compete at the Olympic Games in a hijab.”


‘Concerned Student 1950,’ the history of black students at Missouri University, and black people in Columbia MO.

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By now we all know that University of Missouri president Tim Wolfe, and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin have resigned after protests by Concerned Student 1950, a hunger strike by grad student Jonathan Butler, and the support of the protests by faculty, members of the football team and its coaching staff.

Dave Zurin’s piece at The Nation, 3 Lessons From University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe’s Resignation, makes an important point:

The emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement threatens the operating of this machinery like nothing since the black athletic revolt of the 1960s and 1970s. These conferences, particularly the Southeastern Conference, field teams that, in the words of sports sociologist Harry Edwards, “look like Ghana on the field and Sweden in the stands.” In other words, black football players in particular have a social power often unseen and not commented upon. It’s there all the same.

These athletes are a sleeping giant. At a school like Mizzou, where just 7 percent of the students are black but a whopping 69 percent of the football players are, one can see how their entry in the struggle had a ripple effect that tore through Columbia and into the college football–crazed national consciousness.

This is not the first time that racism has reared its ugly head on college campuses across the U.S., and it won’t be the last. It is the first time in recent years that black student protest has had such powerful results.

The protests involved a list of demands from the student group. They have achieved some of them, and it is important to see how the University will deal with the rest.


He sang, fought for freedom, and was blacklisted. RIP Leon Bibb

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Leon Bibb. Born February 7, 1922 Died October 23, 2015

Some of you are too young to have lived through parts of the civil rights movement that included singers and musicians who used their voices and instruments to advance the struggle for racial justice. They are often referred to as “folk singers.” Some of those names, like Pete Seeger’s may be familiar to you, and others not.

I was blessed to grow up with parents who surrounded me with political activists. Among those activists were actors and musicians. When we moved to Hollis, Queens NYC when I was going into the 5th grade, a few blocks away from us was the home of friends of my parents—Leon Bibb, his wife and children. I got to spend a lot of time in and out of that home—the Bibbs had twins, Eric and Dorie, four years younger than I was and a younger daughter Amy. Through their doors would came Paul Robeson (Eric’s godfather), Theodore Bikel, Peter, Paul and Mary, and numerous other performing artists, including Leon’s brother-in-law pianist and jazz composer John Lewis.


“We’re better than that!” Thank you Rep. Elijah Cummings

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There are many moments that will stand out for me, from the 10 hour abusive bullying “Benghazi hearing” circus conducted by Republicans which attempted to break former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and failed.

Of course there is Mrs. Clinton herself.

Brava Hillary!

I will never forget Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who came powerfully to her defense, and to the defense of what democracy is supposed to look like, and not the 10 hour travesty we witnessed.

“We’re better than that!”

Elijah Cummings Offers Passionate Defense of Hillary Clinton

Representative Elijah E. Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the Benghazi committee, offered a full-throated defense of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s honor, apologizing to her for his colleagues who suggested that she did not care for the people who died on her watch.

“I don’t know what we want from you,” Mr. Cummings said, accusing Republicans of using taxpayer dollars to try to destroy Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign. “Do we want to badger you over and over again until you do get so tired so we get the gotcha moment?”

Clearly touched by his words, Mrs. Clinton thanked Mr. Cummings and said that she had done all that she could to answer more than ten hours of questions. She then expressed hope that, somehow, statesmanship could overcome partisanship.

“It is deeply unfortunate that something as serious as what happened in Benghazi could ever be used for partisan political purposes,” she said. “I’m hoping that we can move forward together.”


Thoughts on Black Media.

The graphic above is one of the earliest covers of The Crisis Magazine:

founded by W.E.B. Du Bois as the official publication of the NAACP, is a journal of civil rights, history, politics, and culture and seeks to educate and challenge its readers about issues that continue to plague African Americans and other communities of color. For nearly 100 years, The Crisis has been the magazine of opinion and thought leaders, decision makers, peacemakers and justice seekers. It has chronicled, informed, educated, entertained and, in many instances, set the economic, political and social agenda for our nation and its multi-ethnic citizens.

The Crisis archives can be found using google books.