Laughter flows out the double doors of the Northview Heights community center as dozens of Somali Bantu children chase balloons around the room while others color beautiful designs on paper. Volunteers guide them through group activities to bond with the children. The president of the United Somali Bantu of Greater Pittsburgh, Abdulkadir Chirambo, records the scene on his phone with a smile on his face. His joyful, resounding laugh is heard above the crowd. He gives a directive to one child and asks another group of kids to pose for a photo. The children of his community are his main focus. He devotes much of his time and energy to their schooling, their security and their ability to thrive in Pittsburgh. For him, it’s personal.
The last time Abdulkadir was in his homeland of Somalia, he was a 9-month-old infant tied to his mother’s back as his family fled the bloody civil war. He has no memory of the land of his birth, but it is as much a part of what has shaped him as any place he has lived. Abdulkadir is Somali Bantu. He is an American citizen. He is a Pittsburgher who now lives in McKees Rocks. As president of the community group, he said he helps to navigate dozens of situations every day for the more than 500 Somali Bantu in the Pittsburgh area.
New families arrive every week as the scattered members of the ethnic group try to find each other across this U.S. Families have been split and resettled thousands of miles apart. Abdulkadir is busy this Monday morning in April helping his sister-in-law get settled into her new apartment in Brighton Heights. His nieces and nephews, recently arrived from Massachusetts and not yet enrolled in school, run around the townhouse with the same spring fever common to all children in Pittsburgh in early April. They chatter about their new school and their new home, while Abdulkadir’s low, even voice tells his story over their giggles.
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