Mohamed Nur was in seventh grade when he first faced the challenge of being a person of color in a Maine classroom.

The moment came one day in math class, when certain students at Portland’s King Middle School were summoned to the library to take an assessment test that’s given to English-language learners.

Though Nur was born at Maine Medical Center in Portland, his parents are Somali immigrants, so English wasn’t his first language. He stood up and looked around. He was the only kid in the room who had to take the test. He saw judgment in the eyes of his classmates.

“They saw me for the first time as different,” Nur told a Brunswick audience in a 2013 TEDx video. “I saw myself for the first time as different. The only person of color in the whole room.”

Since then, Nur has wrestled with that difference and triumphed, becoming a student leader at Deering High School and beyond. As a student member of the Portland School Board and the NAACP Portland Branch, he is recognized as a gifted public speaker on issues of race, religion, poverty, education, peace and unity.

Nur credits his parents, Nadifo and Muqtar Ayanle, with having the courage and tenacity to leave their war-torn homeland, adapt to a different culture in the United States and work to provide a better life for him and his younger sister.

“The amount of love and admiration I have for them, I can’t even quantify,” Nur said.

Nur also praises the Otisfield-based Seeds of Peace global youth leadership program. That’s where he discovered the power within himself and every individual to fight and overcome prejudice, division and hatred in the world.

“I figured out who I was – not only a proud Somali son, but also a proud Mainer and a proud American,” Nur said.

Nur will attend Bowdoin College in the fall. He plans to study government, economics and Arabic, with an eye toward working in international relations. He has heard stories about how beautiful and prosperous Somalia used to be, before nearly 25 years of civil war.

“My dream is to go to Somalia and help with stabilizing that country,” Nur said. “I hear people describe it as a failed state and it upsets me because it sounds like they’ve given up. If I could help bring the beauty back to Somalia, it would benefit the whole world.”

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