Metro

Yvonne Abraham

Muslim refugee is fighting anti-immigration sentiment — by running for City Council

Deeqo Jibril.

Deeqo Jibril.

How many Deeqo Jibrils will we turn away now?

Jibril, 38, is a Roxbury activist, an entrepreneur, and, as of Thursday, a candidate for Boston City Council.

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And, thanks to our new overlord’s lethal combination of cruelty and incompetence, this is no longer a country that welcomes people like her. Jibril is from Somalia. She is a refugee, and she’s a Muslim. That’s three strikes against her, as far as the Trump administration is concerned.

Seeing immigrants and refugees turned away at airports a few days ago has been deeply troubling. She could easily have been one of them.

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“I am very disheartened,” she said. “Refugees made America. We all come from somewhere. People forget that.”

Jibril and her mother came here with nothing when she was 12, fleeing war in Mogadishu. After months in a Kenyan refugee camp, they joined her sisters, who had come here on student visas. She attended Boston public schools, struggling to learn English as her family found its footing with help from welfare payments and food stamps. She is now a US citizen.

She grew up to be a forceful advocate for her fellow immigrants, helping them find affordable housing as a caseworker at a nonprofit, then founding her own Somali community organization. There, and at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, she runs trainings in women’s health and financial literacy, and helps build partnerships between Somali youth and Boston police. She pushes the community to talk about uncomfortable things like substance abuse and radicalization, and urges women to stand up for themselves as she did, ending an abusive marriage.

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“It made me the woman I am today,” she said. “Like Americans say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Alone, she is raising four children, ages 4 to 16, all of them in public schools. She knows what it’s like to drop out of college because child care is impossible, or to have to drag all of the kids to the doctor when one is sick. She leases the African Market in Dudley Square, subleasing spaces to immigrant storekeepers selling clothes and food from their home countries.

And she has become a political force in Roxbury, urging her fellow Somalis to vote, gathering them for candidate visits. Finally, it occurred to Jibril that, rather than helping somebody else get elected, she should run for office herself.

“It’s time we take our work to the city level,” she said, sipping gingery tea in a Somali restaurant on a recent morning. “People are reaching out to us to mobilize the community, but the community needs to see one of us at the table.”

So, here she is. She promises to be a voice for women and immigrants on the council, an advocate for affordable housing and better relations between police and the communities they serve.

She will face a large field of candidates promising the same things in the hopes of succeeding District 7 Councilor Tito Jackson, who is running for mayor. One of her probable opponents, Kim Janey, is a formidable and well-known education advocate. While the district is home to many immigrants, political power tends to reside in the African-American community.

Nobody will outwork her, but it’s going to be tough. Jibril doesn’t know if the gut-wrenching events set in motion last week make her run easier or harder. Certainly, electing a Somali refugee would be a pretty dramatic way for voters to signal vehement opposition to the administration’s callousness.

“I think it’s time to show my fellow Americans that we are American as well,” she said. “Just like your ancestors, we are not going back. This is our city.”

Boston has been good to Jibril. And despite her struggles, she has immense faith in this country, a faith it’s not clear America deserves right now.

She even thinks it possible the president himself could come around. Also, that he has a heart.

“I believe hearts can change,” she said. “We need to pray for him.”

Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.
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