Shortly after wrapping up her first day on the job Monday as a recruiter for a merchandising company in Plymouth, Nadia Mohamed headed to St. Louis Park City Hall. There, she raised her right hand and took on yet another new job: that of City Council member.
At 23, Mohamed is the youngest person and the first Muslim and Somali-American ever elected to the St. Louis Park City Council. After years of working to promote ways to make the city more inclusive, she was encouraged to run for the seat by her predecessor on the council, Thom Miller.
She said she remembers the segregation she felt when she was 10 and her family first arrived in St. Louis Park from Kenya.
"This was really the only home that I've known," she said. "But I remembered that feeling of being a visitor."
Mohamed said she realized that if she wanted to see change in the city, she would have to take part in creating it. Her involvement started a few years ago when she helped arrange Iftar dinners, bringing together Muslims and people of other faiths during Ramadan. Her dedication to interfaith work and inclusion won her the city's 2018 Human Rights Award.
Mohamed said she is eager to continue the same work in her new role on the City Council, where she plans to prioritize creating and maintaining affordable housing, engaging youth in city decisions and promoting racial equity.
City staffers and residents already have been receptive and supportive, she said.
"There's a net of people who want to do better [and are] asking 'What can I do?' ... That energy has me motivated," she said. "That energy is going to keep us progressing for the next four years."
Newly elected Council Member Larry Kraft and Mayor Jake Spano, who was re-elected, also were sworn in Monday evening. Kraft identified youth involvement and diversity as priority issues in his campaign, along with implementing the city's climate action plan. He is involved in the Twin Cities-based national nonprofit iMatter, which focuses on helping youth leaders fight for climate-change solutions.
"I think we now have two people who have direct experience working with young people to help us think about how we can better engage them," Spano said.
While Mohamed's age and background bring "much needed diversity" to the City Council, the mayor said Mohamed also brings a valuable perspective as the only renter on the council.
"She and I have very different backgrounds and may approach challenges differently, but our priorities are the same," Spano said. "It's not just about all of the identities she may have. She's a smart woman, and I'm excited to see her weave her experiences into discussions to help the council make better decisions."
Mohamed graduated in December from Metropolitan State University with a degree in human resources management. She'd like to work in human resources with a focus on inclusion and equity.
For now, she said she is focused on familiarizing herself with policies and priorities in the city.
"This is a job that is continuous — you're getting the baton and trying to figure out what happened before you stepped in," she said. "I'm just working to catch up on the projects in the works and the ones that will be coming up."
Mohamed said she ultimately wants to be a part of shaping a St. Louis Park that doesn't feel segregated or unwelcoming in any of the ways she felt when she was a girl and new to the community.
"My own experiences have shaped what I want — for St. Louis Park to be a more inclusive and not just a tolerant community," she said. "We're in a new era now."
While proud to be making history simply by joining the council, Mohamed said she also has a message for her city: "I caution everyone that my election doesn't mean these issues are fixed. I'm the first and I hope I'm not the last. This is 2020 and this is America, which was built on the idea of representation."
Mara Klecker • 612-673-4440