One of nine siblings, Nimco Isack was born in Nashville to Somali immigrants who came to this country in 1996.

Her family moved to Portland in 2002 and she followed her older sister Maryan into the city’s public schools.

“I was inspired by her,” Isack said. “I was able to see how she was connecting with people at school and in the community. I wanted to be like her.”

Isack has since flourished on her own, becoming an academic leader and role model at Deering High School, where last fall she co-founded the Black Student Union with two friends.

“With all the black students at Deering, I couldn’t believe there was no Black Student Union and there was no unity among the black students,” Isack said.

About 20 to 30 students joined the union initially, attending meetings and holding discussions on topics ranging from facing family expectations to dealing with mental health concerns. The union also addressed diversity issues at the high school, where “it doesn’t always feel so inclusive,” Isack said.


Isack’s senior project called for the “decolonization” of Deering’s history and English curricula and recommended changes that would broaden regular studies beyond traditionally white, mostly male accomplishments. She met with department heads and they seemed open to the idea, Isack said.

“For many years I had to independently learn about the history of Somali people, Native Americans and other minority groups,” Isack said. “Black History Month isn’t enough. We’re not asking to be dominant, but we want to be included.”

In addition to taking honors and Advanced Placement courses, Isack participated for three years in the Seeds of Peace program to promote social, economic and political changes. She also worked part time at The Cedars retirement community and completed a TeachPortland internship working with young children. She plans to study secondary education at Colby College.

“If I want change to happen, I might as well help make it happen myself,” Isack said. “I’ve had some amazing teachers. How amazing would it be to be someone like that in someone else’s life?”

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