I grew up in a country where I never saw anyone going to the polls to vote. The president of Somalia mysteriously got all the votes again and again. So it was great to see the people of this country have a voice and vote for who they want.

When I was growing up in Somalia, my father always talked to us about politics in our country and all over the world, so I was very interested in politics at a young age. When I first came to the United States I was really excited about being able to vote when I became a citizen. It was very empowering to me.

When I moved to Maine I had the opportunity to meet a lot of like-minded people who are very engaged in the community and grassroot organizing, which allowed me to build relationships. So much has changed since the 2016 elections. More and more women are running for office and have won many seats in local and national levels, but still I did not see myself running – I thought I was too immigrant, too black or too Muslim to run. I decided to run when my South Portland district city councilman resigned from his post and my children, my friends and community members gave me their blessing.

When I won I felt so much pride for my South Portland community and how they trusted me to be their candidate and finally their city councilor. I also felt the real work starts now. I felt a big responsibility to make sure I work for them every day that I have this title.

My kids are very proud of me and they are my biggest supporters. Their friends send them articles in the news with my pictures in them, and they share them with me with pride, knowing that I am making a difference in our community, and especially with our youth. It has made me proud to get this amazing opportunity to serve and be part of the decision-making process for all South Portlanders.

Having refugees and immigrants running for office changed things in the immigrant communities a great deal. Before we were focused simply on living, how to provide for our families here and back in our home countries. Now we know we are capable of more than that.

When Pious Ali ran for Portland school board, we were so proud of him, and he is the one who opened the doors for all of us. For years he asked me to run and I always said, “No way.” Today we have four immigrant elected officials in Maine and last Tuesday we had eight immigrant people on the ballot running for different offices. We have more people of color and LGBTQ+ communities running for public office across this country, and it’s about time we step up to serve our communities.

One thing I’m very proud of is that I introduced a resolution that passed the council for the city of South Portland to join Cities for Citizenship – a national initiative to encourage cities and counties in the United States to support citizenship and financial empowerment for eligible permanent residents.

There are still millions of lawful permanent residents who are eligible to become naturalized across the country who are not registered to vote yet. We have more work to do. But I am so grateful for the work the League of Women Voters are doing to register new Americans as they get their citizenship, and meeting people where they are.

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