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Safi Khalif

Civic Leadership Award

Advocate, community educator, entrepreneur and former refugee

I’m a resident of Minneapolis but was born in Somalia and migrated here a very long time ago as a little kid in the late 1990s with my family. Growing up in south Minneapolis, in a predominantly low-income minority neighborhood, I navigated the complexities of societal structures, my Somali culture and my newly found American culture and identity. Coming from humble beginnings, it was always a quest to attain what we were always taught of the American Dream. My family instilled strong values that helped me through school and to complete college.

Arriving in the U.S. with my mother, older sister and baby brother was difficult. Imagine the cultural shock experienced by a family going from a coastal refugee camp in Kenya to Buffalo, New York, in the middle of November 1998. Not only was this our first experience with snow and winter, but we did not know any other Somali families in our city. We banded together and made the best of our newfound lives. We assimilated into American culture quickly, of course, with some difficulties. We are aware of the fortunate situations we were given, and the opportunity of a lifetime dramatically enhances our quality of life and uplifts our standard of living.

My family faced the challenges of the language barrier and navigating an ordinary

American life. Thanks to school and a lot of television, mostly 1990s-era shows, we quickly learned English and the way of life in this country. A few years later, we moved to Minneapolis, where we found a Somali community.

After college, I started giving back to the community by providing and assisting in social services. Examples of the services offered through my nonprofit were housing placement for homeless families, school placement and other social services assistance requested by the community. I highly enjoyed the gratification of assisting nearly 300 families and having a direct positive impact on their lives. Today, I continue the work and strengthen the foundations laid out by my nonprofit and aspire to touch and uplift as many families as possible.

My definition of success is living a fulfilling life and attaining your core values. If you wake up excited, look forward to the day and are happy with where you are in life or heading, I believe you’re on the road to success. I think that success is not something that is ever reached but that you always strive for. There is always room for improvement.

The best advice I could give is never to forget where you came from and never give up on your aspirations and dreams. A quote that I live by, in the words of Fredrick Douglas is, “There is no progress without struggle.” So, if you're struggling with something, you're doing something right. Nothing in life is just given to you (at least for most people), but with the right resilience and dedication, you can achieve whatever you desire.

Safi Khalif photo
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