MANKATO — Abdi Sabrie said of the places he’s lived since moving from Somalia as a young man — among them Boston, Washington, D.C., and Georgia — no place was quite as welcoming and open-minded to him as a Muslim than Mankato was.
Mankato’s special place in his heart led him to want to give back to make the community an even better place for his seven children — he serves on the School Board.
Since moving here, he’s also worked to foster relationships and understanding between the Muslim population and the rest of the city.
His latest effort will come Friday as part of the First Presbyterian Church’s First Fridays at First Church speaker series.
Sabrie said he plans to share what it’s like living as a Muslim and black person in Mankato. Although his experience has been positive, he said there’s always room to growth.
“It’s very accepting and open-minded,” he said. “You’ll see an individual here and there, but the individual does not define the community.”
This message of not defining the community by the actions of a few individuals is exactly how he hopes people look at those who practice Islam. Interactions such as Friday’s event can be effective in getting people to see him and his fellow Muslims in town as humans just like everyone else.
Pete Steiner, who works on the planning committee for the speaker series, said Sabrie’s previous talks in town drew his attention, as did his involvement in the community. Those attributes, plus instances of Islamophobia elsewhere in the state, makes discussions like Friday’s important, he said.
“I think most of us are aware that there’s a lot of Islamophobia,” Steiner said. “I’ve read about what’s been happening in St. Cloud, so I think we just want to pursue the discussion.”
St. Cloud has made the news in recent years for rising tensions between Muslim and white residents.
Coming from Somalia, Sabrie said he can see why some have biases against people they know little about. He referenced Somalia as being a homogenous population — where everyone is black and Muslim — so coming to the United States and interacting with people from different backgrounds was an adjustment for him.
“Because of that experience, I’ve been through the learning curve,” he said. “Because of that, I really appreciated and can relate to people who are just learning about diversity.”
He kept an open mind though, and hopes the community continues to do the same during Friday’s event and into the future.
The speaker series is is free to the public at noon on the first Friday of every month. Steiner encouraged anyone interested to come participate in the event, which allows time for discussion.
Follow Brian Arola @BrianArolaMFP.