African touches infuse the urban program at the Franklin Library.
In the teen center at the Franklin Library in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis, it doesn’t take long to figure out that this isn’t your typical sheep shearing and quiltmaking 4-H Club.
No longer the exclusive domain of rural kids and county fairs, the new 4-H is as likely to deal with robotics as it is roosters.
“We try to create a club that reflects the voices of the people involved, the values of the community, the things that matter, the dreams, the passions, the aspirations,” said Kathryn Sharpe, a program manager for the University of Minnesota Extension Service, which coordinates the state’s 4-H programs.
At the Franklin Library 4-H Club, those voices come largely from Somali, Ethiopian and other East African kids. They are among 1,600 kids in urban 4-H programs in Minnesota, out of more than 33,000 overall.
Some were born in refugee camps before coming to the United States. Before joining, most knew nothing of the century-old agricultural traditions of 4-H, which has some of its roots in Minnesota.
Club members do a decent job of remembering what the four H’s stand for (head, heart, hands and health), but they don’t recite it like a kid from the 1960s might. Last year the Franklin Library club began exploring 4-H robotics, which culminated in a presentation at the Hennepin County Fair.
When she heard about a 4-H program at the local library, 17-year-old Habso Khalifa, who was born in a Kenyan refugee camp, admits she thought the idea of getting together in the library after school was “lame.” After moving to Minneapolis from Baltimore, she came one day and liked it. She came back the next day to find out the club only meets on Tuesdays. She’s been coming for three years.
“My mom always asks me where I go on Tuesdays, and I say, ‘Mom, there is a place I call a second home,’ ” she said. “I was upset when I moved here, then I met the 4-H and that’s when everything changed. I learned a lot of things I don’t learn in school. I learn to communicate in different ways. I learned how many different people live in the community.”
A neighborhood premiere
On a recent Tuesday night, a handful of teens put the finishing touches on plans for a community event scheduled in a few days. There would be Somali rice and sambusas, similar to Indian samosas. A traditional East African group dance called a dhaanto was planned. So was a talent show.
But the showcase of the event would be the premiere of their film, “Journey Back to the Center of the Community,” a provocative look at why few people seem to interact in their neighborhood.
The 10-minute video project began after they recognized their community included people from different backgrounds who didn’t seem to know much about each other.
The group did neighborhood mapping to identify the demographics of the area and then went out into the street. The video interviews tested the club members’ skills at learning how to interact with different types of people, including strangers who might not speak the same language. They often asked a simple question that elicited strong responses: What makes you you?
“I learned that people have their moments. That they have things that only they can do,” Habso said. “There are people who are mean, there are people who are nice. There are people who have great smiles. There are people who don’t.”
iMovies and the State Fair
While a core group of members has remained, the project included some kids who began the project in the spring but were forced to stop during the summer when the school bus no longer dropped them off at the library.
As the date of the premiere loomed, the kids, many of whom were novices with the latest in electronics and software, had to quickly learn the intricacies of a technology new to them: iMovies.
Ninth-grader Iqbal Maxamed participated in making the video and has been in 4-H for two years. A 15-year-old Somali-American, she came to Minneapolis from Seattle when she was 4.
She lives two blocks away and learned about the program after volunteering at the library.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, how old you are, what you look like, where you come from, if you are new to America or not; they are going to welcome you with welcoming hands,” she said. “It’s a great place to be, instead of being on the streets.”
This year for the first time she went to the promised land of 4-H, the Minnesota State Fair, participating in a competition about community.
“My experience there was mind-blowing,” she said. “Very Americanized.”
Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434