LEWISTON — During a post-election speech at the Agora Grand Event Center on Tuesday, Safiya Khalid said she has always been told she holds many “firsts” in her family — the first to graduate high school, the first to graduate from college.
On Tuesday, she also added a first for the city, becoming Lewiston’s first Somali-American to serve on the City Council. At 23, she’s also the youngest.
On Wednesday morning, just a few hours after she defeated fellow Democrat Walter “Ed” Hill with nearly 70% of the vote, news outlets were lining up to interview her. Khalid said she had been contacted by NPR and CNN, among others. The Washington Post interviewed her Tuesday night, weighing in on a race marked by her historic win, the racism she faced and harassment allegations against members of her campaign.
Khalid said early Wednesday that she was still “in shock” from the victory, as well as the amount of national attention she’s receiving.
“Lewiston is out there,” she said.
Khalid, with her mother and two younger brothers, fled Somalia at the age of 7, arriving first in New Jersey before relocating to Lewiston.
For the Somali community, especially immigrants who began settling in Lewiston in the early 2000s, Khalid’s election is a significant step.
Fowsia Musse, who works with Healthy Androscoggin and Maine Community Integration, came to the United States in 1995 and was among the first Somali refugees to settle in Lewiston.
The day after Tuesday’s election, Musse said “words cannot describe how happy I am for the representation we are now being given” in city government.
“I’m very happy for Safiya’s victory in this electoral process,” she said in an email. “Safiya has worked relentlessly hard to earn this. I want to congratulate the other winners, and thank them for the fair fight. Together we can all move forward as a united Maine. Best wishes to all the candidates!”
Jordy Dushime, founder of the African Youth Alliance and recent graduate of Lewiston High School said Wednesday that it’s “revolutionary that a minority and especially an immigrant/refugee is able to take place in the decision making of Lewiston.”
Dushime, 19, came to Lewiston from Burundi three years ago, and founded the African Youth Alliance as an after-school resource for teenagers.
“As a black refugee woman, she is able to inspire us, the future generations to strive to participate in our communities and our beloved state,” he said.
Rilwan Osman, executive director of Maine Immigrant & Refugee Services, said Wednesday that Khalid’s win marked “a huge change for our community.”
“It is both inspirational for our kids and a change for our city,” he said. “She will do a great job for the city we love and call home. A big congratulations to Safiya setting an example for our girls and boys, no matter where you came from, you can dream big.”
While members of the immigrant community have previously served on the School Committee, none have previously won a contested race. In 2013, Zam Zam Mohamud became the first Somali to serve on the School Committee, after she was appointed by former Mayor Robert Macdonald. She had previously been a write-in candidate.
Later in 2013, Jama Mohamed ran as a write-in candidate for School Committee in Ward 5, and became the first Somali to win elected office in Lewiston.
Reached Wednesday, Mohamed said the Somali community was still talking about Khalid’s victory, especially her margin of victory.
“I was shocked, to be honest,” he said, adding that Maine as a whole is just now beginning to elect more diverse candidates. “It’s exciting.”
He said Khalid’s age represents a shift in politics, as younger immigrant voices, who have either spent a majority or all of their lives in America, want to represent their communities.
“She’s very young and very fresh-minded,” he said. “She can really bring a lot to the table because she has the energy. I’m sure that we will all benefit.”
Two years ago, Khalid and two other young Somali candidates were on the ballot for School Committee, but were unsuccessful.
GOPUSA Editor’s Note: Khalid graduated from the University of Southern Maine last year. Her occupation is shown as Community coordinator at GCSMaine. Click this link and scroll down to read more.
One of those candidates, Hassan Abdi, said “Safiya did a great job going to every door and getting people out to vote.”
“She has become a role model for all youth in Lewiston,” Abdi said. “She went through a lot of trouble this election, and I’m very proud of her.”
He said he believes Khalid serving on the City Council will be “another step” in eliminating the racism and harassment that permeated the later stages of the race.
Resident Mohamed Yaro said Khalid’s win was “historic” for Lewiston residents, “especially for the immigrant community to be represented in the City Council by their own.”
“Racism (was) beaten last night by Lewiston residents of all colors,” Yaro said. “Both immigrants and non-immigrants voted for her. Diversity, tolerance, respect and maturity has been implemented, and that is the goal.
“We are so happy to witness this and grateful for the people in the city and state who value diversity and are open and happy for us to be a part of the community,” Yaro said.
Abdifatah Afrah, a Lewiston business owner who volunteered on Khalid’s campaign and worked at Lewiston High School while she was a student there, said that Khalid’s win was a “much needed thing.”
“We live in a divided community,” Afrah said. “Her win shows that while there are people who spread hate, there are also people who spread the good stuff. If you look at the polls, she was voted in by people of all races, religions and backgrounds.”
Afrah said younger people in the community can look at her win and “realize that if you want to run for office, you can run because people want you for who you are and what you can bring to the table, and it doesn’t matter about the color of your skin. It’s encouraging.”
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