As a third-grade teacher at a charter school in northeast Columbus, Qorsho Hassan said she gave her students something she lacked as a Somali-American growing up in Hilliard: the opportunity to meet role models from her own community.

Having visible role models is important to marginalized cultures because young people do not often see those figures in the media, Hassan said.

At Cesar Chavez College Preparatory School, about 90 percent of the student population is Somali-American, she said. Her students were at a perfect age to meet educators, graphic designers, social workers and others who could claim a similar cultural heritage, she said.

"They're really full of hope. They're at that age where they're not so cynical yet," she said.

Though she relocated in June to St. Paul, Minnesota, Hassan wants to expand that influence in central Ohio.

Before she moved, Hassan and Ruth Smith, a program coordinator in the Ohio State University Department of Arts Administration, Education and Policy, created an educational photography project, "Urur Dhex-Dhexaad Ah: Community In-Between," about Somali-American role models living in Columbus.

The project, which is on exhibit at the Dublin Arts Council through Nov. 3, involved two young Somali-Americans -- Faduma Hasan, an 18-year-old Westerville Central High School graduate, and Marian "Asia" Nuur, an 18-year-old Hilliard Bradley High School graduate -- who helped interview 15 community members and highlight their individuality through photos.

The goal, Hassan said, was an initiative "for the community, by the community" that would create a positive representation of Somali-Americans.

When a Somali man, Abdul Razak Ali Artan, was found to be responsible for a stabbing incident at the Ohio State University campus last year, a lot of blame was shifted to the entire Somali community, she said.

"The media won't change unless it's given something to react to," she said.

By the numbers

The community of Columbus Somali-Americans is a sizeable one.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's report on the nation's foreign-born population from Africa from 2008 to 2012, 10.9 percent of Somali immigrants living in the U.S. called Columbus home. Columbus had the second-largest Somali population, second only to the statistical area of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, and Bloomington, Wisconsin.

Carla Williams-Scott, director of the Columbus Department of Neighborhoods, estimated that 60,000 people are part of the region's Somali community.

Somali immigrants first came to northeast Columbus near Morse Road and then spread outward into Gahanna, Grove City, Hilliard and Westerville, Williams-Scott said.

The next influx of Somalis in central Ohio largely began in the mid-1990s after the country's Civil War, Hassan said. Because the country's conditions have improved somewhat, the flow of immigrants has tapered a bit, she said.

Columbus has "been this kind of emerging gateway" for Somalis "to live and flourish," Hassan said.

Columbus' affordable housing, higher-education options and retail- and warehouse-based jobs helped attract Somalis to the area, said Abdikhayr Soofe, who serves as a Columbus outreach coordinator for new Americans.

As families created their own businesses, their community in turn attracted other families looking to be surrounded by members of their own culture, he said.

Ability and responsibility

Family brought Ilhan Dahir, 24, to Columbus in the second grade.

One of the subjects of "Community In-Between," Dahir was born in Canada, the place to which her Somalia-born parents fled as their county's Civil War was starting in the early 1990s, she said.

Her parents moved to Columbus, she said, because her father's brother was living there at the time.

"They wanted us to be around family," she said.

Dahir grew up in Hilliard and became an adult who is comfortable as a translator between communities, she said.

"With that ability came a responsibility," she said.

At the Ohio State University, she worked on initiatives to amplify the diverse student body, Dahir said.

One of these was a mentorship program for incoming students with diverse backgrounds, such as students from immigrant families, first-generation college students or those from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

She also served as an intern with the Ohio Democratic Party, working on Sen. Sherrod Brown's campaign with people from disparate backgrounds but similar government goals, she said.

Now a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, Dahir wants to use her time there to learn about institutions working for marginalized people on a global scale and find ways to give them additional solutions.

"I've been very, very interested in amplifying the voices of marginalized people," she said.

The voices of the Somali community, she said, tend to get homogenized.

That was one reason she said she enjoyed participating in the "Community In-Between" project: to emphasize her community is a diverse one with many different voices.

Education and empowerment

Ismahan Yusuf's family was among the first Somali refugees to migrate to the area in 1982, and she said her home on the north side of Columbus became a kind of resettlement agency for refugees until they landed jobs.

Now 38 and living in Dublin, Yusuf and her sisters, Hodan, Syruk, Fathia and Amren, have turned an outreach started by their mother, Loula Osman, into something more official. Their nonprofit organization, SELF, an acronym for Sisters Empowering and Lifting Families, has a mission to advocate, educate and empower Somali refugees.

Through SELF, Yusuf and her sisters help Somali immigrants approach such challenges as housing.

In November, they provided transportation for members of their community to vote.

They recently completed a back-to-school drive, collecting donations for backpacks and other supplies for community families, Yusuf said.

"We just kind of look for what's needed," she said.

Yusuf said she enjoyed being part of the "Community In-Between" project. Seeing the girls participating in the project using their cameras "was absolutely amazing," she said.

"I think it gave them some type of self-worth," she said.

Creativity and opportunity

Mohamed Rage, a 29-year-old Columbus entrepreneur, wants to encourage more Somalis to consider careers in creative fields.

He recently participated in an entrepreneurship boot camp for predominantly Somali-American students in which he had an opportunity to provide feedback to students on their ideas.

"I felt that I was truly making an impact," he said.

Although some parents in the Somali culture want their children to pursue more traditional jobs and become engineers, lawyers and doctors, his own father was supportive of his business interests, Rage said.

His father understood that nothing worth having comes easily, Rage said, and encouraged him to take risks for his career.

Rage said he remembers drawing in the sand with sticks as a child in Somalia. He always wanted to do something creative, he said.

For a time at Columbus State Community College, he pursued engineering and architecture until he was accepted into the Ohio State University's industrial design program.

Rage founded Five ID Studio with a group of fellow students and they are marketing a health-industry product called Titan Mixer Bottle, which mixes water and protein powder.

"You can make nothing out of something if you just have the drive," Rage said.

Exhibit details

The exhibit is in Dublin because Smith had a connection to the Dublin Arts Council and the city provides a fitting location for a variety of central Ohio residents to view it, Hassan said.

Dublin Arts Council leaders believe focusing on diversity in the Columbus community was important, said executive director David Guion.

"It just made sense to raise awareness of another population that may not get much airplay," he said.

Throughout the course of the project, Hasan -- one of the two young photographers -- had the opportunity to meet Somali-Americans with careers that included graphic design, engineering and anesthesiology, she said.

"The project exposed me ... to a community I kind of didn't know existed," she said.

"Urur Dhex-Dhexaad Ah: Community In-Between" will be on display through Nov. 3 at the Dublin Arts Council, 7125 Riverside Drive. Regular facility hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. Admission is free.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah