Students from Washburn and South High School danced, read poetry and showcased Somali fashion at a Somali Culture event at Washburn on Thursday afternoon. The event was an opportunity for students to finish their program from Somali Culture Night on May 25.

The original Somali Culture Night on May 25 ended early when a fight that broke out in the auditorium resulted in one teenager stabbing another. After police arrived for the stabbing, bystanders said that shots were fired. Two people were injured from the stabbing. The Hennepin County Attorney’s office charged two teens, one from St. Cloud and the other from Minneapolis, in connection to the violence. None of the people involved in the stabbing or shooting were Washburn students, according to Washburn Principal Emily Palmer.

“That night as I was outside with kids I had said something about next year, and one of the girls in the show goes, ‘we get to do it next year?’” Palmer said. “That was really striking to me. I think that they were a little deflated.”

While Palmer thought about planning for next year’s Somali Culture Night, she said she realized they could still finish the show this year to give the students an opportunity to showcase their hard work. By the following day, Palmer talked to the students in Somali Culture Club, the group that put on the show, about finishing the show during the school day at Washburn. Teachers signed up to bring their classes during their fifth hour to watch the program. No parents or families were allowed in the event during the school day. 

Students held the Somali flag at the Somali Culture event at Washburn on June 1. Photo by Anna Koenning

This year’s Somali Culture Night was the first since 2019 because of the pandemic, meaning most of the students hadn’t seen or participated in one of the events. The students in the club approached Palmer with the idea of restarting it earlier this year, and once they got permission the students took it from there.

“We wanted it to be student-led,” Washburn counselor and club advisor Clinton Ferguson said. “We’re going to facilitate and provide the leadership, make sure it’s safe, and they do the rest.”

In addition to students showcasing their work, the event on June 1 was a chance for students to heal, according to Ferguson.

“I think this was very needed from the other night. We’ve kind of all been processing, and so just them having the opportunity to change everything knowing that they were going to have this opportunity made a huge difference,” Ferguson said.

The original event ended with about 20 minutes left of the show, plus a social time with a spread of Somali food. On June 1, students performed four dances, two poems and a fashion show with traditional and modern Somali clothing.

Washburn senior Zamzam Abdi choreographed the dances for the Somali Culture Club’s performance at Washburn on June 1. Photo by Anna Koenning

The dances involved fun, upbeat Somali music, and the moves synched perfectly with the rhythms. An emcee hosted the event with explanations of the performances and words of encouragement for the performers. Club members also ran the music and lights. The students learned the dances and rehearsed two to three nights a week, sometimes well into the evening, for months.

“It’s nice when adolescents want to stay until 5:30 in the evening twice a week since February,” Ferguson said. 

Student leader Abdibasit Abdulkadir said that the group, which was a combination of students from Washburn and South High School, worked together and formed tight bonds regardless of which school they came from. 

“We had a lot of fun. We had a lot of arguments too,” he said with a smile.

Washburn seniors Zamzam Abdi (left) and Abdibasit Abdulkadir (right) led the Somali Culture Club in putting together Somali Culture Night. Photo by Anna Koenning

Washburn senior Zamzam Abdi choreographed the whole show. She said that she learned how to dance when she was younger, growing up in Africa.

“I heard Zamzam was really strict with the practices,” Dr. Palmer said. 

“Oh a hundred percent!” Abdulkadir replied, laughing.

The girls wore matching outfits with brightly colored dresses and many wore black hijabs, and the boys wore all white with green belts. The girls wore different outfits for each song. Palmer said that Washburn fundraising and student council supplied funds for the costumes, which were made for this year’s students and will be used for years to come. 

Students waved the Somali flag between dances, and two poets who performed together wore outfits with a Somali flag print. Their poem was an ode to Somali fathers. Somali is known as a “nation of poets.

The fashion show consisted of traditional and contemporary Somali style, with several looks mixing the traditional and modern elements. Students wore a variety of hairstyles, hijabs and footwear including a pair of Yeezy slides, a contemporary streetwear sandal, and they struck a pose at center stage. The crowd went wild at the poses, like the student who bent down on one knee and feigned a proposal to another student.

Students showed off their outfits from the fashion show portion of the event at Washburn on June 1. Photo by Anna Koenning

Next year, Palmer said that they’ll rework the way attendees enter the event. The event on May 25 was open to anybody, and there was a full auditorium with attendees coming from outside the city and the district, according to Palmer. She said that next year they might give out tickets or have each student bring a set number of people. 

“We were pretty shocked about what happened on Thursday because that’s not the type of behavior we see from our students,” Palmer said. “These were people from elsewhere doing things we’re not used to seeing from kids.”

It frustrated her that the violence overshadowed the event that the students worked so hard to put on.

“It’s part of the story of what’s happened here that’s been reported so widely, that it was disrupted by a kid with a knife, the rest of the story is what doesn’t get reported,” Palmer said. “Let’s do the whole story and not half a story.”

According to Palmer and Ferguson, the show during the school day went great.

“I just can’t wait for them to do it again next year,” Abdulkadir said.