Refugee, teacher, turnaround agent, he’s the first Somali-American on St. Paul’s city council

By Frederick Melo

Shortly before being sworn into office, the newest member of the St. Paul City Council received an unhappy social media message from “Mike from Facebook.” The topic: trash.
What could be done, said Mike, about the refuse accumulating at Minnehaha Avenue and Duluth Street?

Kassim Busuri and his legislative aide, Scott Renstrom, immediately contacted a store owner at the corner to discuss the situation, and then Metro Transit to determine who owns a bench at the location. By the end of the day, the likelihood of getting a trash receptacle installed seemed high.

“We’re going to make sure it’s going to be fixed,” said Busuri on Wednesday, minutes after being seated at his first council meeting. His first project as council member may not be one for the record books, but Busuri’s arrival at City Hall holds special meaning for the city’s growing Somali-American population.


Busuri, who came to the U.S. from a refugee camp in Kenya 20 years ago, made local history Wednesday when he became the first Somali-American to join the St. Paul City Council.

He was chosen by council members from among 15 applicants to fill the remaining 11 months in Dan Bostrom’s unexpired term representing Ward 6, which spans a large section of the East Side.
He’s making history in other ways, too.

After Nathaniel Khaliq, who served for several months in 2013 after Melvin Carter stepped down from the council to take other employment, Busuri is believed to be the second Muslim on the seven-member council, and at age 32 is currently its youngest member.

It’s a unique mantle, but Busuri said he is intimately aware that the day-to-day work is sometimes less than glamorous. And he’ll have to represent a much broader constituency over the next 11 months on frequently mundane issues.

“The Somali population on the East Side is not as big as the Hmong population,” said Busuri, who bought his house in the ward three years ago. “I didn’t sign up to serve just Somalis, or even just the East Side. I signed up to serve all of St. Paul.”
Busuri, who co-owns a daycare in Shakopee and manages the Bright Start Childcare Center on University Avenue in St. Paul, also has served as the dean of a Minneapolis charter school and as education director with the Minnesota Da’wah Institute, a Muslim community center in St. Paul.

But it’s his census work — and the hours spent walking the downtown Skyway with sometimes-unruly high school students — that have put him on the ground and in people’s homes.

A REFUGEE HISTORY

Busuri, who was born in the bustling Somali capital Mogadishu, fled violent upheavals as a child and moved to a refugee camp in Mombasa, Kenya, with his family of 12. The camp, home to thousands, was fenced off from the locals, who “didn’t want us there,” he recalled. “We survived.”

Members of a Baptist church in Wheaton, Ill., sponsored his family to come to the United States and, once in America, the Busuris bounced around a bit, landing in Columbus, Ohio, and then St. Paul in 2000.

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