Six groups ranging from mental health to after-school sports will share $300,000 in grants as part of a federal pilot project to fight youth radicalization in Minnesota's Somali-American community.
Youthprise, a Minneapolis nonprofit, announced the recipients on Thursday, after it drew $1 million in proposals from 14 organizations earlier this year.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger's office entrusted Youthprise to distribute the federal and private funding as part of its Building Community Resilience initiative to fight terror recruitment. The project, formerly known as Countering Violent Extremism, has been met at times by both warm and critical receptions in the local Somali community, the nation's largest.
"We know there is a significant need," said Marcus Pope, Youthprise's director of partnerships and external relations. "The approach we took was to allow the community to propose the solutions they believed would be most effective."
Minneapolis is one of three cities — with Boston and Los Angeles — chosen for pilot projects to bring federal, state and local law enforcement agencies together with community members in the years since terror groups Al-Shabab and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) began recruiting Americans.
Through its Somali Youth Development Fund, Youthprise awarded one-year grants to the following groups, with funding calculated according to their budgets:
• Africa Reconciliation and Development Organization Inc.: $25,000 for courses for males ages 13-18 to prevent conflict in African Diasporas.
• Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota: $100,000 for partnerships with Minneapolis and St. Paul Public Schools; the Minneapolis Employment and Training Program; and Isuroon, Darul Quba mosque in the Cedar-Riverside neighbhorhood for employment education and training.
• Shanta Link: $35,000 to develop the Somali Youth Mental Health project with African Immigrant Community Services.
• Somali-American Parent Association: $85,000 to partner with Ka Joog for a program in Cedar-Riverside that will include youth identity activities, cultural integration and educational and employment opportunities.
• Ummah Project: $30,000 to train and qualify Somali-Americans ages 18-25 as mediators and restorative justice facilitators using Somali and Islamic practices.
• West Bank Athletic Club: $25,000 to build infrastructure, daily sports activities and "interactive parental communication sessions."
Youthprise set aside another $100,000 for technical assistance. Pope said the announcement was "just the beginning," adding that he hopes to seek funding for needs in greater Minnesota.
"This is an important milestone for the hundreds of Somali community leaders and volunteers who have worked on this effort for the past 18 months," said Ben Petok, a U.S. attorney's office spokesman.
But the project has also triggered skepticism from some who say it singles out the Somali community, parts of which are leery of federal law enforcement's involvement.
Luger has said the project focuses on the Somali community because terror groups have exclusively targeted its youths: More than two dozen Minnesotans have left to fight for Al-Shabab in Somalia and, since 2014, 10 young Twin Cities men have been charged with plotting to travel to Syria to fight for ISIL.
Even so, some Somali leaders have challenged its focus. Mohamed Mohamed, executive director of the West Bank Community Coalition in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, said he believes too much attention has been placed on deradicalization. He said East African youth suffer from a stigma that they "are more of a threat than all other youth."
"If we rate the top issues of the Somali-American community, radicalization is at the bottom of the list," Mohamed said. Young Somalis are worried about jobs, educational opportunities and racial profiling by police, he said. "To kind of appropriate those disparities and lump them in and say that's what causes terrorism isn't truthful."
Mohamed Ahmed, whose "Average Mohamed" cartoon series criticizes radicalization, called the grants "a healthy start."
"We are waiting to see how [the government] interacts with us and nonprofits, and to see if this is a viable way to go forward," Ahmed said. "This is uncharted territory."
Pope has a similar strategy to allay any fears: "Results, results, results."