Young Seattle social advocate turns passion for community service into a 365-day a year habit.
Twenty-one-year-old Mohamed Abdi didn’t discover volunteerism through WE, but what he did find was perpetual inspiration to give back.
From a refugee camp in Nairobi, Kenya (by way of Somalia) to the city of Tukwila on the border of Seattle, Washington, where he grew up from age one, Mohamed’s journey over the last two decades has seen him come up against obstacles and soar to great heights. “I came from a very challenging experience.… I saw the cultural and language barriers [my family] had to face. It was a rough childhood growing up with those barriers,” he says, noting learning difficulties early on in school among other challenges.
His odyssey from struggling student to community leader has imbued his life with rare perspective—insight he credits as the motivation behind his passion for advocacy work. “I have a very different voice when it comes to social justice.”
The oldest of eight children, mentorship became a way of life early on. Outside of playing big brother at home, Mohamed uses his voice to affect positive change through multiple school clubs and community associations. Since high school, his extracurricular activities have focused on youth leadership. Take his participation in Teens for Tukwila, the youth program that landed him on WE’s radar.
The brainchild of the Tukwila Parks and Recreation Department, the program—recognized by the Tukwila City Council as an “official” voice of the city’s youth—supports leadership building, with the teens themselves setting the day’s agenda. “Our group’s mission statement is about strengthening our community and developing leadership skills,” explains the veteran member. Having been a part of the program since he was a freshman at Foster High School, Mohamed—now a student at Seattle Central College—remains involved. It was Teens for Tukwila, after all, that got him and peers to Washington, where they met with their senator, Patty Murray, to exchange views on youth issues. For Mohamed, who continues to work with local government officials on social matters through various volunteer organizations, the D.C. experience remains a highlight. “It took us to a whole other level of advocacy,” he gushes. “[It] helped us enhance our leadership skills and helped us strengthen our community.”
With all the positive impacts achieved through Teens for Tukwila, it was inevitable that WE should catch wind of contributions by standout members like Mohamed. In 2015, Mohamed was invited to speak at WE Day Seattle. Looking back, he remembers this as a pivotal moment in his advocacy career; it was the day he met Craig and Marc Kielburger, and the start of Mohamed establishing his public platform. As he shares, for him, the founders of WE “are inspirations along with Malcom X and Dr. King.” Listening to them address stadiums full of young change-makers, reading their books and following their journey has taught the social advocate a guiding lesson: “everyone’s story is powerful.”
When laid bare, Mohamed’s own story is a tapestry of perseverance and accomplishments—even the hurdles add colour to the overall picture. They also act as a teaching point for this community role model. “I just try not to let that dictate where I want to get to. I don’t let those obstacles get in the way of what I’m trying to achieve,” he affirms. “All you can ever do is be positive. Lead by example—help the young ones.”
He goes on to open up about “dealing with institutional racism,” again, keeping an optimistic attitude. Active in a variety of his college’s multicultural network of clubs, including the Somali Association, he proudly declares, “I celebrate [my] intersectionality—being black, being Muslim, being Somali, being American—it’s like, how can I spread my positivity, my input, my voice and my experience?”
This open approach is one Mohamed learned from role models Craig and Marc. Seeing firsthand the effect WE Day has on youth—how guest speakers’ stories give strength to strangers in the audience facing the same challenges they once did—he discovered the power of sharing personal narratives. “I’m not afraid to share my story, now,” he affirms. His story is his strength.
Taking his cue from WE—the movement that “changed [his] vision” and taught him “advocacy work in the community never stops; it goes 365 days a year”—Mohamed is a steadfast, high-octane change-maker with plans that stretch far into the future. “I’m hoping school and giving back to the community can help me to work a lot closer to living my dream and finding whatever my calling is,” he shares. And, along the way, his local community can count on him to “create more opportunities and resources for others to live out their dreams,” too.
As for the present, that’s all about recruitment to the cause—the “cause” being social advocacy and community engagement. “The change I would like to see is for everyone to become leaders,” he declares. “I think we need more global leaders in our world … what I mean by that is that I think everybody has leadership qualities in them. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, it’s just that we have to celebrate what those are.” How? “Share your story.”