A Minnesota Somali youth group that uses the arts to steer young people away from gangs, drugs and religious extremism is the choice for the prestigious FBI Director's Community Leadership Award this year.

"We're really excited. It kind of reassured what our role is in this community," said Abdul Mohamed, 22, an Augsburg College student and a board member of Ka Joog, the group nominated by the Minneapolis FBI office for the national award.

On Wednesday, local FBI leaders will recognize Ka Joog members at a news conference at Augsburg College. In the spring, Ka Joog leaders will travel to Washington to receive the award from FBI Director Robert Mueller at a special ceremony.

Ka Joog is a Somali word meaning "stay away" as in stay away from trouble. The group was formed in 2007 at a time when many young Somali-Americans were struggling to find their place in society. The combination of rising high school dropout rates, a rash of deadly shootings and the radicalization of young Minnesota men recruited to travel to Somalia to fight with a terrorist group alarmed law enforcement and Somali community leaders.

Mohamed said Ka Joog's approach was to use youth-driven programs to reach their peers. Led by co-founder Mohamed Farah, the Ka Joog leaders are all college students who preach the importance of going to college and contributing to society. "Our mission is to bring the issues that Somali people face to the forefront so there's an understanding on the issues that affect us," Mohamed said.

"Philosophy Friday" and "Invisible Art" are some of the regular events they host that give youths a place to express themselves through poetry, music, and theater.

Last year, Ka Joog invited leaders from the local U.S. attorney's office and the FBI, along with Somali youths, to attend the first "Radical Minds Youth Conference."

The goal, Mohamed said, was to open up a dialogue and talk about what could be done together to combat extremism.

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488